Officials say that a California man who was wrongfully convicted for killing an ex-girlfriend and her son four decades ago has reached a $21 million settlement with the city of Simi Valle, California.
Craig Coley, 71, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 1978 murder of his former partner, Rhonda Wicht, and her 4-year-old son, Donald, at their apartment. However Coley has always maintained his innocence, and was pardoned in 2017 by California’s then-governor, Jerry Brown, based on exculpatory DNA evidence found by investigators. The 39 years Coley spent behind bars was the longest prison term ever overturned in California, the statement said.
Coley has spoken to law enforcement officials about evidence collection, and has met with parents of prisoners who maintain their innocence, according to Mike Bender, a close friend and former police detective in Simi Valley, a community just outside Los Angeles. Bender had pushed for Coley’s release for nearly three decades after he became troubled by aspects of the case.
California authorities awarded Coley $1.95 million last year — $140 for each day he spent in prison. At the time, it was the largest payout for a wrongful conviction by the state’s Victim Compensation Board.