In 1978, Craig Coley of Southern California was accused of murdering his 24-year-old girlfriend Rhonda Wicht and her four-year-old son. He proclaimed his innocence at the time, but was not able to prove it. The most evidence against him was from an eyewitness who claimed to see him leaving his girlfriend’s apartment shortly after the murders took place. He would go on to spend nearly 40 years in prison for a crime he never actually committed. The investigation was re-opened decades later and DNA evidence was used to prove Coley’s innocence. In 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Coley and had him released from jail, according to Fox News. He is now 71-years-old.
Investigators used new technology and forensic tests to prove that the DNA found on Wicht’s bed sheets, was in fact not Coley’s. It belonged to an unknown male who might not ever be identified. Of course, no amount of money will make up for the decades Coley spent behind bars for a crime he was not guilty of. However, some justice has been served. Coley has been awarded $21 million in settlement funds for his wrongful conviction. At the very least, he will have the opportunity to live out the rest of his life without any financial burdens.
Craig Coley, 71, was released from prison after serving 40 years for a crime he didn't commit. DNA evidence and re-investigation proved Coley's innocence in the 1978 murders of 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht & her 4-year-old son.
— Ingrid Travassos (@TangledBeeHive) February 25, 2019
Los Angeles city officials decided that it would be less costly to form a settlement agreement rather than drag out a lengthy trial. While the city will pay the majority of the hefty sum, insurance is expected to take care of the rest. City Manager Eric Levitt knows that this settlement will in no way give Coley back the years of life he lost. However, it is the city’s way of making amends. “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,” he said in a public statement.
His lawyer, Ron Kaye, says that the completion of the settlement has brought his client a degree of peace. It will allow for Coley to have the closure necessary to move on with his life and essentially start over. “He now can live the rest of his life, which we hope will be really well into the future, with the security he deserves,” Kaye said.
A judge has factually declared Coley completely innocent and disapproved earlier testimony against him. At this time, no other suspects have been arrested in relation to the 1978 murders.