Moving slowly assisted by a cane, a white-haired and weary Michael Hanline saw the outside of a Los Angeles-area 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 San Diego-based organization.
"The case really rested on two pieces of evidence. There were documents that had never been handed over to the defense which showed other people had knowledge of the crime and were likely responsible for the crime," Simpson said.
Some of the documents proved people knew specific facts they couldn’t have unless they were involved, he added.
Recent testing showed DNA at the crime scene matched an unknown man's, not Hanline's, according to the attorney.
Still, prosecutors will decide whether to retry Hanline at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 27.
But Simpson and his team were not the only ones convinced of Hanline's innocense. His wife Sandee clutched a pair of cowboy boots while she talked with reports Monday, saying sh wanted him to have something to wear later.
"I'm just so happy it's done, over with. I just want to go home," she said.
For now, Simpson said Hanline aims to get his Social Security card, go home with his wife and go fishing — and is excited to spend Thanksgiving with his family for the first time in over three decades.
"It feels like I'm on the front of a missile, going through space and stuff is just flying by," said Hanline.
Gordon Tokumatsu and The Associated Press contributed to this report.