SIMI VALLEY, Calif.(NEWS10) – A wrongfully convicted man has agreed to a $21 million settlement with a California city after he spent 39 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Craig Coley was convicted of murdering Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son, Donald, in 1978 and spent the better part of four decades in jail. He was released in November 2017 after receiving a pardon from then-Gov. Jerry Brown. He was 70 years old at the time of his release.
Now he’s collecting a massive payout from the city that convicted him of the crime he did not commit.
Simi Valley, California, released a statement Saturday afternoon saying it had come to an agreement with Coley to pay him $21 million.
“The tireless advocacy by those who believed he was innocent, and the Simi Valley Police Department’s initiative to reopen the case, led to the discovery of DNA evidence, which ultimately led to the determination that Mr. Coley was factually innocent and he was later pardoned by Governor Brown,” the town said in a release.
Cole always maintained his innocence in the double murder.
“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,” Simi Valley City Manager Eric Levitt said. “The monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical and it would be irresponsible for us to move forward in that direction.”
The $21 million payout is the second million-dollar settlement given to Coley since his release. Brown agreed to pay the wrongfully convicted man almost $2 million from the state’s Victim’s Compensation Government Claim Board — the largest payout since the board was established in 1965.
The board called him “unequivocally innocent” of the crime.
The city will pay about $4.9 million of the $21 million settlement, with the rest coming from other sources, including insurance, the city said.