WASHINGTON – California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned and released on Wednesday a 70-year-old man who spent 39 years behind bars for murders that the authorities now believe he did not commit.
Craig Coley was serving a life sentence for the murders of his ex-girlfriend Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her 4-year-old son Donald, in 1978 in Simi Valley in California. He has always maintained his innocence.
Brown said in the pardon statement that he had ordered a review of Coley’s case two years ago.
“The grace with which Coley has endured this lengthy and unjust incarceration is extraordinary,” Brown said in the pardon statement.
Simi Valley Police Chief, David Livingstone, and by the Ventura County District Attorney, Gregory Totten, supported Coley’s clemency petition.
Livingstone and Totten reopened the case in 2016 after a retired officer raised doubts about whether Coley was guilty.
Although much of the evidence was destroyed after Coley exhausted all of his appeals, authorities carried out DNA tests that did not match his profile.
“This is a tragic case. An innocent woman and a small child were murdered. Craig Coley has spent 39 years in custody for a crime he likely didn’t commit. The real murderer or murderers have not been brought to justice,” Livingstone and Totten said in their joint statement recommending the governor “issue a pardon to immediately release Coley from prison.”