The Southern California city of Simi Valley will soon be shelling out $21 million for a judgment settlement on wrongful imprisonment. A man ended up serving close to four decades in jail when he was wrongfully convicted of the killing of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old son.
In 2017, Craig Coley, 71, was released from jail on a pardon by the then governor of California. Governor Jerry Brown stated that a re-investigation into the 1978 murders of both 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht and her son, coupled with DNA evidence, show that Coley was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and imprisoned for.
DNA testing, which played the crucial factor in Coley’s pardon, showed that the blood found on the victim's bedsheets was not that of Coley’s but of a now unknown suspected perpetrator. Coley had maintained he had an alibi during the time of the murders. However, the police investigating the killings at the time had an eyewitness that placed Coley at the scene. Reports show that the eyewitness's testimony has since been disproved.
Governor Brown chose to pardon Coley at the behest of both the Simi Valley’s police chief, along with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. In a separate settlement, the state of California approved $2 million just last year, as a judge had declared that Coley was factually innocent. The Simi Valley settlement was done to forestall the lengthy, costly and unnecessary procedures that are usually associated with such a situation.
City Manager Eric Leavitt said in a statement: "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." The city itself will be responsible for covering $4.9 million of the settlement, with the remainder is expected to be covered by insurance and other unnamed sources.
An attorney for Coley stated that no amount of money could ever compensate his client for the years of his life lost while wrongfully imprisoned, however, the settlement does offer a feeling of closure and vindication for his client. The attorney went on to say: “He now can live the rest of his life, which we hope will be really well into the future, with the security he deserves.”
As of this writing, the Simi Valley police have no new suspects and have made no further arrests in the forty-year-old murder case.
So, what’s the verdict—you decide.
Will this forty-year-old murder case be able to be solved, after imprisoning the wrong man, to begin with?