November 24 – Ventura County – It’s a rare occasion indeed—and perhaps the perfect Thanksgiving story–when the wheels of justice grind to a halt and shift into reverse gear, but on November 19th, Ventura District Attorney Greg Totten made public the official release from prison of Michael Ray Hanline after his 36 years of incarceration.
Hanline, now 68 years of age, was sentenced by a Ventura County jury in 1980 to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the 1978 shooting of J.T. McGarry, a Ventura resident.
After decades of work by a dedicated team of lawyers at the California Innocence Project which revealed unmatched DNA evidence, the suppression of exculpatory evidence by police and prosecutors at Hanline’s trial, as well as other prosecutorial and judicial errors, in 2010 U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Wistrich issued a recommendation that Hanline’s conviction be overturned, saying “the prosecution was so successful in violating the trial court’s orders and its constituionial obligation that by the time the exculpatory evidence came to light nearly three decades later many of the important witnesses had died or disappeard.”
Four more years of prosecutorial wrangling ensued, during which time DNA testing and investigations were conducted, and on November 24th , while granting his release, D.A. Totten announced that “the conviction integrity process has not concluded that Hanline is factually innocent” and that his team will “continue to evaluate the evidence to determine how to proceed.”
Be that as it may, Michael Ray Hanline walked into the light of freedom after serving 36 years behind bars, whispering “It’s hard to believe.”
Indeed it is.
Photos: Courtesy California Innocence ProjectHanline, Ventura County Jail Booking,
California Innocence Project: Michael Hanline