SIMI VALLEY (CBSLA) — Prosecutors and police are asking for the release of a 70-year-old man who’s served 40 years for two murders they say he didn’t commit.
Investigators say in November of 1978, 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son, Donald, were killed in their Simi Valley apartment. Rhonda had been strangled. Her son was suffocated. Wick’s former boyfriend, Craig Coley, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Decades later, the Ventura District Attorney’s Office and Simi Valley Police Dept. are supporting Coley’s recent petition for clemency.
“We are now convinced Mr. Coley is factually innocent,” Ventura County D.A. Gregory Totten said. “It is an absolutely shocking and tragic reminder that the best justice system man ever created is not perfect.”
Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone reopened Coley’s case last year after talking to a retired detective who had doubts about his guilt. Detectives began working with the D.A.’s office and found that pieces of forensic evidence destroyed soon afterwards by court orders at the time were still in a private lab. Detectives obtained the samples reanalyzed them with modern DNA technology.
“We were able to determine that the defendant Craig Coley’s DNA is not on these items … but the DNA of other individuals is,” Ventura County Special Assistant D.A. Michael Schwartz said.
Simi Valley police and the Ventura County D.A.’s Office have written a letter to Governor Jerry Brown asking for Coley’s immediate release.
“It’s tragic, it’s a waste of a person’s life. He’s actually tried to make the best of it and make the best of it while he’s been in prison. He’s not bitter, he has a positive attitude, it’s remarkable,” Schwartz said.
“I look forward to the day I can shake Mr. Coley’s hand, apologize to him the injustice he suffered,” Totten added.
Police say they now have a cold case on their hands but are actively pursuing leads to find the real killer of Rhonda Wicht and her son.