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Man gets $21 million after being wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 40 years

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The DNA evidence used to convict him wasn't his

Image source: KABC screenshot

Craig Coley was wrongfully convicted and spent most of his adult life in prison for a murder that authorities now acknowledge he didn't commit. Now the city of Simi Valley, California, will have to see him paid $21 million for his wrongful conviction.

What's the story?

In 1978, Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son Donald were murdered. Based on DNA evidence that police now say wasn't even his, her ex-boyfriend Craig Coley was convicted of these crimes and sent to prison in 1980. His co-workers had backed up his alibi, but neighbors said that they had recognized his truck at her house that night. And he still had a copy of Wicht's key.

Coley was 31 at the time. He would spend the next 39 years behind bars, but always professed his innocence.

Coley's vindication came from a detective named Michael Bender, who said that he had found discrepancies and flaws throughout the investigation. His supervisors weren't convinced, but Bender continued to investigate and to petition for Coley's freedom. This began in 1989 and continued until Coley was finally freed in 2017. Coley is now 71.

"What motivated me was that there was no one else to do it," he said, according to The Washington Post. "I felt strongly that an innocent man was in jail and the murderer was free."

So Coley's case was reopened. The DNA from the crime scene was re-tested and was found to belong to another man, not Coley. Police also discovered that neighbors had who had claimed to have seen Coley's truck at the scene of the crime would not have been able to properly identify the vehicle from the apartment where they lived.

What happened next?

By the end of the new investigation, it became clear that Coley was innocent. He was pardoned by former-California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 and awarded $2 million. This amounts to about $140 for every day he was kept behind bars.

Coley sued for more, and now he'll get $21 million. At least $4.9 million of this will come from the city of Simi Valley. The rest will come from insurance.

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