Innocent US man gets $30m after 38 years in jail

Craig Coley is seen in an undated

Craig Coley is seen in an undated

Brown pardoned Coley at the request of Simi Valley's police chief and the Ventura County District Attorney's Office and the state approved a separate settlement payment of almost $2 million past year.

Coley was convicted of killing his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend Rhonda Wicht and her son Donald at her Simi Valley home in 1978.

Of the $21 million that Coley will be awarded, Simi Valley city said they will pay about $4.9 million with the remainder to be made up by other sources, including insurance.

A year later, Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone also launched an investigation, just as he was taking the helm of the department.

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

A retired Simi Valley detective named Mike Bender was instrumental in pushing law enforcement agencies to reexamine the case.

The victims were discovered by a relative who grew concerned when Rhonda Wicht didn't show up for a family get-together.

His conviction was eventually overturned due to advances in DNA technology and faulty evidence.

He did not have a prior criminal record.

The new investigation also raised questions about Wicht's next-door neighbour's claim that she had seen a man matching Coley's description drive away the morning of the killings.

"The grace with which Mr. Coley has endured this lengthy and unjust incarceration is extraordinary", the governor wrote.

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The Vietnam veteran had dated Wicht before her murder.

Soon after Coley was pardoned, a judge declared him factually innocent.

It was also established that the witness who said she saw Mr Coley's truck could not have had a clear view of the vehicle from her window.

The settlement with Simi Valley was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

That money allowed Coley to buy a home.

Coley was charged with first-degree murder and prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty. Coley was found guilty in a second trial and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

'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.

Boxes of evidence once thought destroyed were found in a storage unit, and the company that had tested Coley's biological samples had been bought by a private company, which retained the samples.

The sheet on which Wicht's body was found did not contain Coley's DNA, but it contained sperm and possibly saliva from an unidentified man, and the child's T-shirt did not contain Coley's DNA, the registry said.

Ron Kaye, an attorney representing Mr Coley, said the settlement offers some closure and vindication for his client, though no amount of money can compensate him for the life he missed while imprisoned.

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