Craig Coley

Craig Richard Coley (born June, 1947) is an American man who was wrongfully convicted of a double murder in Los Angeles, California, and spent 39 years in jail. He was pardoned by the governor of California in 2017 because DNA testing, not available at his original trial, did not support his conviction.[1]

Early life

Coley was born in June, 1947 and was in the Navy during the Vietnam war and his service included several deployments to Vietnam aboard USS Enterprise and USS Bainbridge.[2][3]

Wicht murder case

On November 11, 1978 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son, Donald Wicht, were found dead in her apartment in Simi Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles, California.[4] Donald Wicht had been suffocated and Rhonda Wicht had been raped, beaten and strangled. The police suspected Coley was the murderer because he had been Rhonda Wicht's boyfriend for two years and the couple had recently broken up.[5]

Coley was arrested the same day as the murders and charged with the double murder. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. The second trial in 1980 led to his conviction[6] and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.[7] After Coley lost his final appeal to his conviction, the judge ordered all evidence to be destroyed.[8] During his imprisonment, Coley was incarcerated in the California State Prison, Los Angeles County and the Folsom State Prison.[9] [10]

New investigation

Michael Bender, a serving detective with Simi Valley Police Department, started to re-investigate Coley's case in 1989 and discovered there were problems with it. Until their deaths, Coley's father and mother, a retired police officer and teacher respectively, had been trying to free their son.[11][12] Simi Valley Police Chief Dave Livinstone requested a new investigation by cold case Detective Dan Swanson. Det. Swanson located missing evidence, and had it forensically examined. DNA testing, not available at the original trial, showed there was no trace of Coley's DNA on the evidence, but that there was the DNA of an unknown suspect.[13] Investigators also disproved the testimony of a witness from the original trial who claimed to have seen Coley at the scene of the crime.[14] In a report to the local police, three former and current police officers testified that the detective at the time of Coley's trial had “mishandled the investigation or framed Mr. Coley.” The local prosecutor felt the original detectives decided Coley was guilty too quickly and that they were victims of "tunnel vision".[5]


California governor Jerry Brown pardoned Coley on November 22, 2017,[15] because the evidence showed he was innocent of the murders.[5] In February 2018, the California Victims Compensation Board awarded Coley almost $2 million in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment for almost 40 years.[14][8]

On February 23, 2019, Coley received a $21 million settlement from the city of Simi Valley. City Manager Eric Levitt said of the case that "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 monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical and it would be irresponsible for us to move forward in that direction".[16] Of the $21 million that Coley would 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.[citation needed]

Coley’s prison term, at nearly 38 years, is the longest in California for someone whose conviction had been overturned. Coley’s time behind bars is the 14th-longest nationwide for a proven wrongful conviction case.[17]

After Coley's release and the subsequent arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer, DNA testing was conducted to see if the Golden State Killer was the real murderer. DNA testing, however, proved inconclusive and the search for the real killer continues.[18][19]


  1. ^ Cooper, Jonathan J. (November 23, 2017). "Man Wrongfully Convicted of 1978 Murder Is Freed From Prison". Time. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Craig Coley". Michigan State University College of Law - National Registry of Exonerations. December 4, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Nelson, Laura J.; Tchekmedyian, Alene (November 24, 2017). "How evidence once thought destroyed helped free a man after 39 years behind bars for murder he didn't commit". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  6. ^ "Jury recommends prison for murderer". LA Times. December 31, 1969. p. 53. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  7. ^ Cooper, Jonathan J. (November 23, 2017). "Man freed decades after double killing that rocked Simi Valley". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Diskin, Megan (November 24, 2017). "Wrongly convicted Craig Coley spends Thanksgiving free with the cop who fought for his release". Ventura County Star. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Schladebeek, Jessica (November 24, 2017). "Calif. man wrongfully jailed for 1978 double homicide freed". NY Daily News. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  12. ^ "Wrong man served 38 years for rape, murders; Golden State Killer link now sought -". May 1, 2018. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  13. ^ Spang, Thomas (November 27, 2017). "Wieder frei nach 39 Jahren im Gefängnis" [Free again after 39 years in prison]. Augsburger Allgemeine (in German). Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Baird, Roger (February 16, 2018). "Man wrongly jailed for almost 40 years gets $2m payout - but says it can't make up for lost time". International Business Times UK. Retrieved February 17, 2018.
  15. ^ Brown, Edmund G. (November 22, 2017). "Pardon - Crag Richard Coley" (PDF). Executive Department, State of California. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 18, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  16. ^ "Simi Valley reaches $21 million settlement with wrongly convicted man, Craig Coley". Ventura County Star. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  17. ^ "Longest Incarcerations". National Registry of Exonerations. February 25, 2019. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  18. ^ Farzan, Antonia Noori (February 25, 2019). "He just got $21 million after 39 years wrongly locked up. He has one cop to thank for freeing him". The Washington Post.
  19. ^

Other Languages