Charges dis­missed af­ter man serves 34 years

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Cal­i­for­nia man who was freed af­ter serv­ing 34 years of a life sen­tence for mur­der had the charges for­mally dis­missed Wed­nes­day.

Michael Han­line, 69, was the long­est-serv­ing wrong­fully in­car­cer­ated in­mate in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia In­no­cence Project, whose lawyers worked for 15 years to free him and per­suaded pros­e­cu­tors to re­ex­am­ine the ev­i­dence.

Testing showed DNA found at the crime scene did not come from Han­line or his al­leged ac­com­plice. In ad­di­tion, pros­e­cu­tors with­held ev­i­dence that should have been dis­closed to Han­line’s legal team dur­ing the trial.

The con­vic­tion was based on “pa­per-thin ev­i­dence,” said Justin Brooks, direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia In­no­cence Project.

“He is 100 per­cent in­no­cent,” Brooks said out­side court.

A Ven­tura County Su­pe­rior Court judge dis­missed the charges at the re­quest of pros­e­cu­tors, telling the court­room it was done be­cause the al­le­ga­tions can’t be proven be­yond a rea­son­able doubt.

“I feel good,” Han­line said out­side court. “Hope­fully ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be like it used to be.

“When I first got ar­rested, I fig­ured it might take a year or two to get this all straight­ened around but not 36,” he said, in­clud­ing two years he spent in jail af­ter his ar­rest but be­fore his con­vic­tion.

He added: “I never be­lieved I’d spend the rest of my life in pri­son, but man, 36 years is a long, long time.”

Han­line’s con­vic­tion was over­turned and he was freed from pri­son on Nov. 24 af­ter pros­e­cu­tors told a judge doubts had been raised about the case. How­ever, he had been re­quired to wear a GPS an­kle bracelet and had faced the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­trial.

In re­quest­ing dis­missal of the case, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice ar­gued against the judge is­su­ing any find­ing that Han­line was in­no­cent, con­tend­ing that its case was still sup­ported by prob­a­ble cause.

Han­line was charged with the 1978 killing of a friend, Ven­tura res­i­dent J.T. McGarry. Pros­e­cu­tors said Han­line and an ac­com­plice kid­napped McGarry, shot him and dumped his body off of a high­way.

Au­thor­i­ties be­lieved Han­line was jeal­ous be­cause he and McGarry had been in­volved with the same woman.

Han­line’s then-girl­friend, Mary Bischoff, was granted im­mu­nity and was a key wit­ness at his trial. She tes­ti­fied that McGarry had skimmed thou­sands of dol­lars from mo­tor­cy­cle swap meets and that Han­line had threat­ened to “blow his brains out.”

She also tes­ti­fied that Han­line left home with a hand­gun the night of the killing and re­turned muddy. Han­line said he worked on mo­tor­cy­cles at home all night ex­cept for leav­ing to get beer.

In 1980, Han­line was con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der and sen­tenced to life in pri­son with­out pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role.

Han­line, wear­ing a white beard and bald ex­cept for a fringe of hair and a white pony­tail, ap- peared out­side wife, Sandy.

He has been rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle since his re­lease and com­plained that Cal­i­for­nia roads had got­ten bumpier dur­ing his years be­hind bars.

He also talked about “Buck Rogers” gad­gets such as cell­phones, and other changes.

“Gas isn’t 32 cents and a pack of cig­a­rettes isn’t 30 cents,” he said. “It’s a whole new ball game.”

Asked about his plans, he replied: “All I want to do is go fish­ing and ride my bike and spend time with Sandy and do a lit­tle gar­den­ing.”

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AP

Michael Han­line and his wife Sandy an­swer ques­tions from the me­dia af­ter his case was dis­missed in Ven­tura, Cal­i­for­nia on Wed­nes­day, April 22.

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