A California Superior Court Judge named Donald D. Coleman has overturned the 1978 murder conviction of Michael Ray Hanline after lawyers from the California Innocence Project and the Ventura County District Attorney agreed that documents that showed someone else might have committed the crime had been hidden from Hanline during his trial.
Hanline (above) is now 69. He has been in prison for 36 years and his case is the oldest conviction ever reversed in California history. He is currently incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano in Vacaville and he will be released following a bail hearing next Monday, November 24.
Hanline was convicted in 1980 of murdering a colorful biker named J.T. McGarry who also called himself Michael Mathers. McGarry ran motorcycle swap meets for Lou Kimzey, who was the editor and publisher of Easyriders Magazine and the founder of the biker rights organization ABATE. ABATE was formed to fight mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists. At the time of its founding, ABATE was an acronym for “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.” In the earliest days of Easyriders, virtually everything advertised in the magazine was sold by staff members of the magazine.
McGarry and Hanline shared a girlfriend named Mary Bischoff. Bischoff told Hanline that McGarry had stolen between $30,000 and $35,000 from the Easyriders editor and she complained that McGarry should have given half of it to her.
McGarry was last heard from alive on the evening of November 10, 1978 when he had a phone conversation with an attorney named Bruce Robertson. He disappeared sometime before eleven that night. His body was found dumped off Highway 33 near Ventura on November 12. He had been shot in the chest and the neck with .38 caliber revolver.
The prosecution theorized that Hanline killed McGarry because the dead man hadn’t shared the money he stole from Kimzey with Bischoff. By the time of the murder Bischoff was living with Hanline and she became one of the principal witnesses against him. She testified that Hanline had told her a “contract” was out on McGarry, that she saw Hanline with a .38 revolver in his belt as he went out the night McGarry disappeared and that he had vowed to “blow his brains out.” She said Hanline returned that night wet and dirty and shared cocaine with her he said he had gotten from “Magic Mike.”
At Hanline’s trial, a number of witness contradicted Bischoff’s testimony, but the prosecutor dismissed those statements as a fabricated alibi. The prosecutor also hid two reports totaling 22 pages that contradicted Bischoff’s testimony.
A DNA analysis of evidence collected from the crime scene was conducted earlier this year. DNA testing did not exist at the time of Hanline’s trial. The recent testing found DNA profiles for two male individuals. One profile matched the victim and the other belonged to an unidentified male. There was no DNA evidence that Hanline had been at the crime scene.
In a document filed a week ago, Ventura prosecutors also stated: “During the last several months, the District Attorney’s Office has interviewed several individuals who were involved in the events surrounding the murder of the victim. These interviews suggest that persons other than petitioner also had motives and means to kill the victim. These interviews, together with evidence from the in camera hearings discussed above and the federal habeas evidentiary hearing, also suggest that witnesses were manipulated and threatened and discouraged from cooperating with the prosecution or with the Innocence Project. This evidence casts further doubt on petitioner’s guilt.”
Prosecutors have previously alleged that McGarry was a member of a motorcycle club.