Published: Wed, February 27, 2019
World Media | By Cesar Oliver

California man cleared after 40 years in prison gets $21M

California man cleared after 40 years in prison gets $21M

After almost four decades in prison, Coley was finally granted a pardon by then- California Governor Jerry Brown at the end of 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", Simi Valley City Manager Eric Levitt said. That marked the largest payout by the state's Victim Compensation Board for an erroneous conviction.

Coley had no prior criminal record before the murders, Brown noted, and he was a model prisoner, dedicating himself to religion.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown praised his unrelenting faith through his incarceration when pardoning Coley, reportedly calling him "extraordinary".

While the settlement brings some sense of justice to Coley and his family, it also means that Rhonda and Donald Wicht's killer or killers escaped arrest. Brown approved a $1.95 million payment to Coley-$140 for each day he was in jail. His co-workers had backed up his alibi, but neighbors said that they had recognized his truck at her house that night. Thirty-nine years is the longest prison term overturned in California, the city says.

The Vietnam veteran had dated Wicht before her murder.

Investigators also tested stains, blood and semen on a child's Mickey Mouse T-shirt that had been discovered in a pile of dirty clothes during a search of Coley's apartment after the murders. A jury could not come to a decision after the first trial, but convicted him in 1980 after the second.

Ron Kaye, a lawyer representing Mr Coley, said the settlement offered some closure and vindication for his client, although no amount of money could compensate for the life he missed while imprisoned. None of them matched Coley.

At trial, police testified that there were no signs of forced entry at Wicht's home and that a key to an inside door lock had been found on the floor of her apartment.

When Coley was convicted of the murders, a judge signed an order that permitted the destruction of the crime scene evidence.

But Coley always maintained his innocence and a retired Simi Valley detective named Mike Bender persuaded authorities to re-examine the case. However, a Northern California lab had acquired the contents and instead of destroying the evidence, it was in storage intact.

None of the DNA matched that of Mr Coley. Two years ago, he had been pardoned, after the new investigation had proved his innocence.

Like this: