LOS ANGELES — A judge agreed Friday to dismiss murder charges against a man suspected of killing 10 homeless men in Los Angeles in the 1970s because he only has six months to live.
At a hearing Friday morning, Bobby Joe Maxwell's sister Rosie Harmon burst into tears when the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler dismissed Maxwell's case following a request from prosecutors.
Harmon called her mother right after the hearing, sharing authorities' decision that came nearly four decades after Maxwell was jailed in 1979.
"While Mr. Maxwell was hospitalized, there were sheriffs sitting with him 24/7 and she had to get permission as to when she could come and visit from the sheriff," Maxwell's attorney Pierpont Laidley said.
"Now he is a free man, she'll be able to visit just like any other visitors," Laidley said.
The 68-year-old has been comatose since last December when he suffered a heart attack and will likely never recover, Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace said.
Maxwell was convicted in the 1980s of two killings. The appeals court overturned Maxwell's convictions decades later after it found that he was the victim of a notorious jailhouse snitch who committed perjury in his two convictions.
Court documents show the appeals court called the case's jailhouse informant, Sidney Storch, a "habitual liar."
The case against Maxwell appeared thin until Storch emerged. The only physical evidence, the appeals court said, was a palm print found on a bench in an area Maxwell frequented. Storch, who was Maxwell's cellmate for three weeks, read about the print in news accounts and said he asked Maxwell about it.
He claimed that Maxwell confessed he had made a mistake failing to wear gloves during the stabbings. Maxwell denied making the comment.
In 2013, prosecutors refiled five murder charges against him.
Grace said prosecutors moved expeditiously to make a decision once they confirmed that Maxwell is unlikely to regain health and that he would continue to receive acute medical care at the hospital once he's released from custody.
Grace called the dismissal a "compassionate release" and stressed there was no finding of Maxwell's guilt or innocence. Prosecutors will seek to refile the charges if Maxwell recovers.
Maxwell's attorneys said they are absolutely ready to prove his innocence.
"Mr. Maxwell has always insisted that he was innocent, and has fought to prove his innocence for forty years," another of Maxwell's lawyers, Frederick Alschuler, said.