November 24, 2014 / 10:20 PM / 6 years ago

California man's conviction in 1978 murder overturned on DNA evidence

VENTURA, Calif. (Reuters) - A California man who spent more than 30 years in prison for a 1978 murder was ordered released on Monday by a judge who overturned his conviction based on DNA analysis and investigative reports that were withheld from his defense.

Sandee Hanline holds on to the boots of her husband Michael Hanline, next to Justin Brooks (C), Director of California Innocence Project , as they watch Michael Lief, Senior Deputy District Attorney speak at Superior Court in Ventura, California November 24, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The California Innocence Project, which worked for 15 years to win Michael Hanline’s freedom, said the case represented the oldest conviction to be reversed in the state.

Hanline, 69, will likely be released by the end of Monday on $2,500 bail, Ventura County prosecutors said, following a hearing in which they said the case remained under investigation following the new disclosures.

Hanline, who appeared in Ventura County Superior Court behind a fence barrier, wearing a blue jail jumpsuit, showed little reaction on being ordered freed, answering only: “Absolutely” when asked by Judge Donald Coleman if he understood the conditions of his release.

His wife, Sandee Hanline, sobbed softly from the second row in the courtroom and hugged a pair of her husband’s brown leather boots to her chest.

“I’ve kept them polished for 36 years,” she said of the boots, adding her husband seemed “enthusiastic, happy and apprehensive” to be released after more than three decades behind bars.

Hanline was convicted in 1980 of the murder of J.T. McGarry, a truck driver who ran events for people who sell used motorcycles, according to court papers. McGarry disappeared on Nov. 10, 1978, and was found shot to death two days later by a highway.

Hanline, who worked security at the motorcycle sale events, and was romantically involved with McGarry’s ex-girlfriend, was arrested on an unrelated charge that month after traveling to Northern California and using McGarry’s credit card.

He was charged with murder by prosecutors who suggested his motive was jealousy over McGarry’s on-again, off-again relationship with the ex-girlfriend.

But DNA analysis conducted at the request of the California Innocence Project found it matched the profile of an unidentified male, not Hanline. A magistrate judge also found that prosecutors at the time had failed to turn over relevant material to the defense.

Prosecutors said their investigation was ongoing and that Hanline remained charged with the original crimes that led to his conviction.

“It’s not about winning cases, it’s about trying to uncover the truth,” Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Lief said.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney

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