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“There's No Words:” Wrongfully Convicted Inmate, Longest-Serving in California, Released After 36 Years

Prosecutors said they are no longer sure whether Michael Hanline, now 68, killed a Ventura man in 1978

Moving slowly assisted by a cane, a white-haired and weary Michael Hanline saw the outside of a prison cell for the first time in more than three decades Monday.

Hanline ambled his way to freedom after spending 36 years behind bars for a murder he was wrongly convicted of before his release Monday, reuniting with his wife and family.

"There's no words for it," he said. "I have emotions just charging through me."

Hanline posted $2,500 bail Monday afternoon, following a morning hearing where a judge ordered that his movements will still be monitored electronically.

Prosecutors said they are no longer sure whether Hanline, now 68, killed Ventura resident J.T. McGarry in 1978.

Hanline’s was the longest wrongful incarceration in the state’s history.

He was convicted in 1980, after prosecutors argued that he was jealous of McGarry because the two were romantically involved with the same woman, according to the California Innocence Project website.

"I've always believed in his innocence," said his wife, Sandee. "I'm just happy it's done. I just want to go home."

The California Innocence Project, which dedicates legal services to helping release wrongfully convicted inmates, took up Hanline’s case in 1999 and has been working to prove his innocence ever since, said Alex Simpson, attorney for the case and associate director of the organization.

"The main argument we had was that we had uncovered documents from 1978 that showed that there were other people who were claiming responsibility for the crime," Simpson said.

Some of the documents showed that people knew specific facts and knowledge of the crime they couldn’t have unless they were involved, he added.

Recent testing showed Hanline's DNA was not found at the crime scene, said Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz.

"We are all incredibly excited, but this is not the end of the line for Mr. Hanline," Simpson said.

Prosecutors will decide whether to retry Hanline at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 27.

For now, Simpson said Hanline aims to get his Social Security card, go home with his wife and go fishing — and is excited for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

"He’s really excited about spending time with his family," Simpson said. "It's the first time in three decades."

Gordon Tokumatsu and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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