VENTURA, Calif. (CBSLA/AP) — A California man recently pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown has had his double-murder conviction vacated by a judge.

Craig Coley walked out of prison last week after nearly four decades.

“I always had hope,” Coley told CBS2 in an interview on Nov. 24, two days after walking free. “Sometimes it was stronger than others.”

The 70-year-old was convicted of killing 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht of Simi Valley and her 4-year-old son, who were found dead in their apartment on Nov. 11, 1978.

The Ventura County Star reports a judge Wednesday granted motions vacating the convictions and finding Coley factually innocent.

“From the day one when they arrested me, I told them, ‘Look, do what you wanna do to me, but keep looking,’” Coley said. “Don’t stop. You have the wrong man.”

Simi Valley’s police chief and Ventura County’s district attorney had asked Brown to pardon him.
They said tests revealed Coley’s DNA isn’t on a key piece of evidence used to convict.

Brown wrote in his pardon that Coley has been a model inmate for 38 years, avoided gangs and violence, and dedicated himself to religion.

“People need to realize that these things occur out there,” Coley told CBS2. “Police are human. They make mistakes.”

Coley’s first trial in 1979 resulted in a hung jury, with jurors unable to resolve an impasse that left them 10-2 in favor of guilt, according to a news release issued by the police chief and district attorney.

He was tried again in 1980, found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.

In his clemency application, Coley told the governor that he was framed by a detective who destroyed crucial evidence.

“This case is tragic,” Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone and Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten wrote in a news release last week. “An innocent woman and small child were murdered. Craig Coley has spent 39 years in custody for a crime he likely did not commit.”

The newspaper says the years he was in custody make Coley eligible for nearly $2 million in compensation.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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