Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

California man cleared after 40 years in jail gets $21 million

Craig Coley was wrongfully convicted of killing his girlfriend and her four-year-old son

Craig Coley, right, spent 39 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. AP.
Craig Coley, right, spent 39 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. AP.

The city of Simi Valley, California, has reached a $21 million (Dh77.1m) settlement with a man wrongly imprisoned for nearly 40 years after his girlfriend and her four-year-old son were killed.

Craig Coley was released in 2017 after he was pardoned by then-governor Jerry Brown, who said DNA evidence and re-investigation proved his innocence.

Simi Valley officials said on Saturday that the agreement would prevent long, costly and unnecessary legal proceedings, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"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.

The city will pay about $4.9m and the rest is expected to be paid by insurers and other sources.

The state last year approved a separate, nearly $2m payment for Mr Coley, who is now 71.

He spent 39 years behind bars after he was wrongly convicted of killing Rhonda Wicht, 24, of Simi Valley and her son in 1978.

The city's police chief and Ventura County's district attorney asked Mr Brown to pardon Mr Coley because forensic tests showed his DNA was not on the victim's bedsheet, which held samples from an unknown man.

Mr Coley had an alibi for the time of the killings and investigators later disproved testimony from a witness who placed him at the scene.

His parents, who took out a mortgage to pay his legal bills, died while he was in prison.

Ron Kaye, a lawyer representing Mr Coley, said the settlement offered some closure and vindication for his client, although no amount of money could compensate for the life he missed while imprisoned.

"He now can live the rest of his life, which we hope will be really well into the future, with the security he deserves," Mr Kaye said.

Soon after Mr Coley was pardoned, a judge declared him factually innocent. Simi Valley police have not arrested anyone else in the killings.

Updated: February 25, 2019 01:23 AM

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