US man given $21m for false murder charge

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-47355907

Craig ColeyImage copyright
Reuters

Image caption

A review of DNA evidence helped Craig Coley clear his name in 2017

A California man wrongly convicted of murder has been awarded $21m (£16m) as compensation for his 38 years in jail.

Craig Coley, 71, was jailed in 1978 for the murder of his ex-partner and her son, but consistently maintained his innocence.

He was released in November 2017 after DNA evidence cleared him during a review of the case.

His prison term is reportedly the longest ever overturned in California history.

The compensation will be paid by the city of Simi Valley as part of an out-of-court settlement.

“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,” said Simi Valley City Manager, Eric Levitt.

“The monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical and it would be irresponsible for us to move forward in that direction.”

‘A model inmate’

Vietnam War veteran Mr Coley was jailed for the murder of Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her four-year-old son Donald.

Ms Wicht was found raped and strangled, and her son suffocated, at their apartment in Simi City.

Police initially suspected Mr Coley after a neighbour said she saw him and his truck at the apartment after hearing a commotion.

After two trials, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He had no previous convictions at the time.

A stream of inconsistencies in the prosecution later emerged, and state governor Jerry Brown pardoned Mr Coley nearly four decades later, calling him a “model inmate.”

“The grace with which Mr Coley has endured this lengthy and unjust incarceration is extraordinary,” Mr Brown wrote at the time.

“It’s not something you can describe other than it’s painful,” Mr Coley later told the LA Times.

“I went four decades not being able to grieve the woman and child I loved.”

His bid for freedom was aided by former police detective, Mike Bender, who first expressed concern about the case in 1989.

“He’s looking forward to being able to live his life,” Mr Bender told Reuters, “No one would want to trade places with him.”

Police have yet to identify who murdered Ms Wicht and her son.