By Chase Hill / February 25, 2019

Man Wrongfully Convicted Of Double Murder Awarded $21 Million

Craig Coley was eventually found innocent of the crimes that cost him 39 years behind bars.

The Most Notorious Prison Breaks of All Time
(David McNew/Getty Images)

In 1980 Craig Coley was convicted of the double murder of Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son, Donald, and spent 39 years behind bars.

But it turns out Coley never committed those crime.

On November 11, 1978 police discovered Wicht and her son in what appeared to be a staged robbery. Wicht had been strangled with a macrame cord and raped and her son had been smothered to death.

Coley told police he  had been working late that night and then took a friend home afterwards — an account backed up by witness testimony. However, the prosecution believed a different version of events: that Wicht was going to break up with Coley, whom she had been seeing, and he used a key to enter her home to commit murder.

For four decades Coley maintained his innocence.

In recent years, however, someone else came to believe him — Michael Bender, a Simi Valley police detective who examined the case file. In 2013, he claimed evidence was destroyed that may be able to vindicate Coley.

“There was nobody else there to fight for the guy, so I just continued the fight,” Bender told CNN. “It was the right thing to do.”

Boxes of evidence, once thought destroyed, were discovered and contained DNA samples that would later be tested and exonerate Coley of the crimes he never committed. An unidentified male’s sperm and possible saliva was discovered on a sheet; Coley’s DNA was not found in the samples.

Over the weekend, Simi Valley announced it was settling a $21 million federal lawsuit with Coley. Last year, the California Victim Compensation Board awarded him $2 million for being wrongfully convicted of the 1979 double murder.

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