The city of Simi Valley has come to a $21 million settlement with Craig Coley, who was wrongly sentenced for a 1978 double homicide. He has finally been exonerated after surviving almost four decades in prison.
Simi Valley City Manager Eric Levitt reported the settlement soon after 2 p.m. Saturday.
Coley was blamed for killing his ex-lover Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her child Donald Wicht, 4, at their home in Simi Valley on Nov. 11, 1978. The two were discovered dead in their beds at their condo on Buyers Street. She was evidently choked by a macramé rope and her child was smothered to death. Coley was captured soon thereafter.
He was tried twice for the wrongdoing after a jury favored 10-2 for conviction on April 12, 1979. A second jury discovered Coley liable on Jan. 3, 1980. He was convicted on Feb. 26, 1980, a lifetime in prison without the chance of parole.
Although many convictions proven to be wrong are repealed with the aid of particular groups such as the Innocence Project , what makes Coley's case so interesting is that the request to reopen the case originated from inside the Simi Valley Police Department. The detective who recognized the conflicting issues apparently followed the case for a long time. About 28 years to be exact.
"We trust the police officers made the best choice," Levitt said Saturday. The actions of Mike Bender, the now-retired investigator, and other people who advocated for justice in the Coley case are "a source of pride" for the police force, Levitt included.
While the city can't compensate for the decades Coley spent in jail, Levitt stated, the settlement is the "right course of action" for Coley, the district and the city, Levitt said.
In an announcement discharged by the city, Levitt credited the "tireless advocacy by those who believed" Coley was innocent, alongside the Simi Valley Police Department's drive to revive the case, for prompting the revelation of DNA proof that excused Coley. The proof prompted an assurance of authentic honesty, with Coley being exonerated by the Gov. Jerry Brown in November 2017.
The settlement enables the city to dodge a possibly time-consuming and expensive court trial, Levitt said.
"In light of an investigation given to the city, this could have implied costs of up to $80 million, in the worst case imaginable, if it was to go to court," Levitt disclosed to The Star.
Of the $21 million, the city will pay roughly $4.9 million, with the rest of be paid by insurance and different sources.
Levitt said the city's offer will be accessible from a liability reserve fund that has sufficient funds to cover the $4.9 million. However, the city should eventually return the borrowed funds after some time, he said.
"This is clearly a bigger case than we would typically encounter," Levitt said.
Coley's jail term, at almost 39 years, is the longest in California for somebody whose conviction has been exonerated, as indicated by the National Registry of Exonerations, an program including UC Irvine and the graduate schools of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Coley's time in the slammer is the tenth longest across the country for a demonstrated unjust conviction case, as per the library's broad database.
Another Ventura County murder case in which a conviction was toppled additionally included an extensive imprisonment. Michael Hanline was discharged from jail in November 2014 after around 36 years in a correctional facility, which at the time was the longest time served in California for an unfair conviction. DNA proof drove investigators to clear Hanline's conviction and at last drop charges, however they didn't decide he was verifiably guiltless, as occurred with Coley.
Coley was discharged from jail at Thanksgiving in 2017 subsequent to being exonerated by DNA proof that indicated another person as the murderer. That proof was at first thought to have been abolished, yet was later found.
Brown endorsed a bill in May 2018 which allowed for the contribution of almost $2 million to the exonerated man. It was then the biggest single installment issued by the state for an unjust conviction.
At the time, Coley, at the age of 70, said the cash would enable him to restart his life outside of prison.
"I'm 70 years of age, but it's a head start," Coley said at the time.
How was he found not-guilty?
Coley's release was made possible by Simi Valley police analyst Mike Bender.
A revived examination by the Simi Valley Police Department found that a key bit of proof did not have Coley's DNA on it. That provoked Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten to proclaim Coley "truthfully guiltless" at a news gathering in November 2017.
Totten and Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone sent a letter to Brown voicing their help for Coley's leniency request, which was presented by Bender for Coley's benefit in 2015.
Bender's concern for the case started in 1989 when he was a Simi Valley police criminologist. In the wake of running over data on the Wicht murders and investigating the case, he began to question the conviction.
"There were loads of warnings," Bender disclosed to The Star in 2017.
At the Simi Valley Police Department, Bender talked up about his worries, however no action was ever taken.
Throughout the following 28 years, he took Coley's case to the California Attorney General's Office, the FBI, city lawyers and grand juries.
There was a court request that the physical proof in the Wicht murders be decimated, however Livingstone allotted a cold case criminologist to look again at the case in October 2016.
It worked out that the proof hadn't been destroyed, all things considered.
Examiners approved Coley's discharge once the police examination turned up new DNA evidence that proved the incarcerated man.
When the 2015 recording was submitted, Brown expressed to the parole board that the case be examined further.
"Amid that examination, a previous police detective, police captain, and cop revealed that they trusted Mr. Coley was improperly sentenced and opined that the criminologist who initially examined the issue misused the examination or framed Mr. Coley," the exoneration letter states.