$21 Million Settlement Reached for Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Two Murders He Didn't Commit - NBC 10 Philadelphia
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$21 Million Settlement Reached for Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Two Murders He Didn't Commit

Craig Richard Coley was arrested on Nov. 11, 1978

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    Craig Coley spent 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He finally walked out a free man after being pardoned by California Gov. Jerry Brown. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (Published Friday, Nov. 24, 2017)

    A Southern California man wrongly imprisoned for nearly 40 years for two murders he didn't commit has reached a $21 million settlement with the city of Simi Valley.

    Craig Richard Coley was convicted of the 1978 murder of his former girlfriend, Rhonda Wicht, 24, who had been strangled, and her 4-year-old son Donald, who had been smothered in his bed.

    Simi Valley police reopened the case at the urging of a retired officer. The reopening of the case led to the discovery of DNA evidence, which exonerated him. He was freed from prison in 2017.

    "While no amount of money can make up for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this case is the right thing to do for Mr. Coley and our community," said City Manager Eric Levitt in a statement. "The monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical and it would be irresponsible for us to move forward in that direction."

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    Coley was arrested the day police found the bodies on Nov. 11, 1978.

    Over the next 39 years, he had maintained he had never killed anyone.

    Eventually, the police chief and district attorney indicated they believed him.

    Coley was pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown and walked out of a high desert prison just hours before Thanksgiving 2017, becoming the latest of numerous prisoners to be freed after advanced forensic technology that analyzes DNA showed they either didn’t commit the crime or someone else did.

    In an application for clemency that Coley himself filed from prison four years ago, he said a former police detective had framed him by destroying crucial evidence.

    "The crimes were not committed by me and had the detective not destroyed the exonerating evidence (including semen and hair), the real suspect(s) could have been apprehended," Coley said.