LOS ANGELES (CN) - Exonerated of murder after 35 years in prison, Michael Ray Hanline claims the Ventura County District Attorney and Sheriff's Department suppressed evidence of his innocence and made him "the longest-serving wrongfully incarcerated individual in California's history."
Hanline sued the county, its district attorney and sheriff's offices, lead investigator Martin McCoy and lead prosecutor Louis Samonsky, on Nov. 12 in Federal Court.
Hanline was convicted in 1980 of murdering of magazine writer J.T. McGarry in 1978 and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Hanline claims the defendants suppressed "numerous exculpatory documents ... show[ing] that others had taken responsibility for the murder before Mr. Hanline's conviction, that witnesses knew key facts of the crime which were not known to the general public, and that these facts could not have been known by those individuals without their direct involvement in the crime."
Had these documents been produced in discovery, Hanline says, his attorney would have been able to "establish credible evidence" that someone was framing him for the murder.
DNA testing done in 2014 on tape used to bind McGarry's hands and other evidence from the crime scene proved that Hanline was not the killer, according to the complaint.
Hanline claims the defendants conspired with private defense attorney Bruce Robertson to frame him for McGarry's murder, "and conceal the true reason McGarry was killed and the true perpetrators of the crime."
Robertson is not a party to the complaint.
"As a result of these actions ... Mr. Hanline became, through no fault of his own, the longest-serving wrongfully incarcerated individual in California's history," the complaint states.
Hanline says he met McGarry in January 1977 while he was working a booth at a motorcycle-oriented swap meet, which McGarry was covering for Paisano Publications' Easy Rider magazine. Hanline says he, McGarry, and McGarry's bookkeeper Mary Bischoff began traveling together and organizing swap meets.
Bischoff is not a party to the complaint. Both men "became romantically involved" with Bischoff, who was staying with Hanline when McGarry disappeared on the evening of Nov. 10, 1978, according to the lawsuit.
Two days later, police "found McGarry's body with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and head near California Route 33, off of Matilija Canyon and Wheeler Gorge," the complaint states.
Sheriff's investigators found duct tape on McGarry's right wrist, indicating he may have been killed somewhere else. They learned that Bischoff and Hanline had gone to McGarry's house early on the morning of Nov. 12 to retrieve several of Bischoff's personal items, according to the complaint.
Hanline says Bruce Robertson's office became the "base of operations" for the department's investigation. Sheriff's Officer McCoy, the lead investigator, often visited Robertson and showed him copies of investigative material to get his opinion on the case, Hanline says.
"Despite this constant presence at Robertson's office, investigators did not discover - or did not care - that Robertson was dealing drugs out of his office, and using drugs, specifically cocaine, at the time of the investigation," the complaint states.
It continues: "Investigators also did not discover Robertson had a number of false-bottomed Pennzoil cans in his office containing cocaine. The same type of false-bottomed Pennzoil can was discovered at McGarry's house after the murder, further implicating Robertson in the crime."