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Man freed in longest wrongful incarceration case in Calif. history

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    Michael Hanline leaves the Ventura County Jail on Monday with attorney Alex Simpson, right, and California Innocence Project director Justin Brooks in Ventura, Calif.

VENTURA, Calif. » A 69-year-old man convicted of murder 34 years ago was freed Monday after prosecutors told a judge they’re no longer sure he committed the crime.

Michael Hanline posted $2,500 bail Monday afternoon after a morning hearing at which the judge ordered his movements electronically monitored and that he not contact prosecutors, detectives or the family of the victim.

Prosecutors in Ventura County will decide whether they want a retrial at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 27.

Hanline was convicted in 1980 of killing Ventura resident J.T. McGarry and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His case was taken up by the California Innocence Project, whose lawyers persuaded prosecutors to re-examine the evidence.

Subsequent 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.

While prosecutors have not concluded Hanline is innocent, "We don’t have confidence in the conviction at this point," prosecutor Michael D. Schwartz said.

The California Innocence Project says Hanline’s case was the longest wrongful incarceration in state history.

A photograph provided by the project shows Hanline and his wife after his release. He wore a sweatshirt with the image of a California license plate and the letters "XONR8," representing the word "exonerate."

In a statement released through the Innocence Project, Hanline thanked his attorneys and prosecutors, and expressed a level of disbelief.

"I’ve watched half my life go by behind bars. I always hoped this day would come, but I can’t believe that it’s happening today," Hanline said.

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