SIMI VALLEY, CA — A federal lawsuit involving a man who spent 39 years in prison has been settled on behalf of 71-year-old Craig Coley in what has become the longest prison term ever overturned in the state of California, CNN reported.
The city announced on Saturday that it would settle the lawsuit, giving Coley a $21 million award after nearly four decades of prison time.
Coley was wrongfully convicted in the 1978 murders of Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son, Donald. He was in the process of breaking up with Wicht at the time of the killings.
“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,” City Manager Eric Levitt said in a statement, while also adding that it would be costly and irresponsible to go to trial.
The question of how much money to award people wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for long amounts of time is often a difficult one.
In this case, a dedicated top-to-bottom effort was made that involved the local police department and Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten, the report said.
Coley, a Navy veteran, was pardoned by then-governor Jerry Brown in 2017 and was awarded almost $2 million in compensation by the California Victim Compensation Board last year, which amounts to $140 for each of the 13,991 days he spent in prison.
Donald Wicht was found smothered on November 11, 1978, and his mother was strangled with a macramé cord and also raped. The scene was made to look like a burglary.
Coley told police he had been socializing at a restaurant until 4:30 a.m. on the day the murders were committed.
He has continued to insist that he was innocent, denying that he ever committed the crimes.
His DNA was not found on the garments of the victims, but sperm and possibly saliva from a unidentified man eventually was found, leading to the pardon.
“I grant this pardon because Mr. Coley did not commit these crimes,” Brown said.
For more information, read the full report here.