California Man Who Spent 39 Years in Prison Gets $21 Million For Wrongful Conviction

          A resident of California was convicted back in 1978 for the murder of his former partner and her child. It was a heinous crime no doubt, but what if he didn’t commit it?

          This is the cruel reality for Craig Coley. Coley, 71, was charged and sentenced for the murder of his former partner, Rhonda Wicht, and her son. The child was only four years old at the time. It all went down in their apartment, and Coley was the lead suspect. After being locked up for thirty nine years the man has been freed, and is being compensated for the mistake.

          Even though Coley was awarded $1.95 million last year ($140 per day in prison) in what was the most substantial payout for wrongful conviction by the state’s Victim Compensation Board, more fortune is soon to come his way. The new $21 million he’s receiving through a settlement will help him live the rest of his life more than comfortably. It allowed Coley to buy a home, and according to close friends he may now visit places on his bucket list and better campaign and aid the wrongfully convicted.

Inmate photograph of Craig Coley, courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilition/Handout via REUTERS

         According to reports and those who’ve met him, Coley had always maintained and claimed his innocence. It wasn’t until almost four decades of his life spent in prison without parole that he was pardoned. The pardoning was given out in 2017 by Jerry Brown, the governor of California at the time. It was all based on exculpatory DNA evidence found by forensic investigators. This was record setting, as Coley’s situation is the longest time anyone in California has ever spent behind bars before being overturned.

          “While no amount of 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.” This was declared by Eric Levitt, the City Manager of Simi Valley City. On Saturday in a public statement, Levitt addressed the large compensation that Coley is soon to receive for the wrongdoing on the state’s part.

          Since he has acquired his freedom, Coley has made his way around speaking up against wrongful conviction. He’s toured and conversed with officials of law enforcement about evidence collection and analysis, as well as meet up with parents of prisoners who maintain their innocence. Mike Bender, a former police detective and close friend of Coley, shared some insight. In an interview with Reuters he stated “Craig’s message is always don’t give up.”

Craig Coley, right, spoke with reporters on Thursday about his situation in Sacramento, California. Moment captured by AP Photos.

          According to reports from the New York-based Innocence Project, more than 350 inmates have been exonerated in the United States since 1989 thanks to DNA testing. The average time served was 14 years in prison before exoneration.


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