UPDATE: MICHAEL HANLINE FREED NOVEMBER 24, 2014. READ HERE.
County of Conviction: Ventura
Convicted of: First Degree Murder
Sentence: Life Without Parole
Years Served: 32
Cost to Taxpayer: $1,440,000
In November 1978, a biker named J.T. McGarry disappeared from his home in Ventura County, California. J.T.’s body was discovered a few days later. He had been shot multiple times and his body had been dumped on the side of a frontage road 25 to 30 miles from his home.
As an investigation unfolded over the coming weeks, Michael Hanline was arrested and ultimately convicted of J.T.’s murder. Michael has maintained his innocence ever since. As soon as the California Innocence Project started reviewing cases, Michael contacted the California Innocence Project, more than 20 years after his conviction.
Over years of investigation, the California Innocence Project was able to uncover police reports that had been sealed before Michael’s trial. The reports implicated others, not Michael, in the crime. Further, the police reports impeached the prosecution’s key witnesses. It turned out that a defense attorney named Bruce Robertson who represented many of the prosecution’s witnesses in other cases, made concerted efforts to steer the investigation away from his clients and toward Michael. Robertson threatened witnesses and intimidated them into testifying against Michael. Further, a witness placed Robertson at J.T.’s home the night he was killed.
Before Michael’s trial, Robertson and the Office of the District Attorney asked the court for a secret hearing outside of the presence of Michael and his attorney. They convinced the court to allow critical police reports to be sealed, under the guise of protecting an anonymous informant. The sealed police reports came to light only after the California Innocence Project took on the case.
On October 22, 2010, after a lengthy evidentiary hearing and complete review of all of the evidence in the case, United States District Court Magistrate Judge Andrew Wistrich issued a report in Michael’s case, recommending that his conviction be overturned. Judge Wistrich emphasized how the prosecution, investigators, and Robertson had colluded to violate Michael’s constitutional right to have exculpatory information turned over to the defense. Judge Wistrich wrote, “The prosecution was so successful in violating the trial court’s orders and its constitutional obligation that by the time the exculpatory evidence came to light – nearly three decades later – many of the important witnesses had died or disappeared . . . Permitting the prosecutor to engage in this sort of gamesmanship with impunity signals that the constitutional rules established in Brady and its progeny are merely ‘pretend rules’ that need not be taken seriously.”
Unfortunately, in August 2011, the United States District Court judge rejected Judge Wistrich’s report and recommendation. Michael, in ill health, remains in prison and a petition for clemency may be his only chance for release.
>>Read the next story, Kimberly Long.