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California Man Finally Released from Prison After Being Wrongfully Imprisoned for 1978 Double Murder

Craig Coley, a 70-year-old man who was wrongfully convicted and jailed for a double murder in 1978, has finally been exonerated and recently enjoyed his first Thanksgiving as a free man since his imprisonment 39 years ago.

Mr. Coley was released after new DNA evidence proved he was innocent of all charges, prompting California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, to pardon the elderly man.

Shortly after announcing the pardon, Simi Valley (where the 1978 double murder occurred) prison officials, working in conjunction with local police and prosecutors, were able to fast-track Mr. Coley’s release in time of Thanksgiving.

Governor Brown’s decision has been widely praised by residents and police in Simi Valley.
In a 2-page Court document, Governor Brown praised Mr. Coley and slammed the justice system’s failings. "The grace with which Mr. Coley has endured his lengthy and unjust incarceration is extraordinary," Brown wrote.

"I grant this pardon because Mr. Coley did not commit these crimes."

Since 1989, DNA testing has sent shockwaves through America’s incarceration system, leading to the release of over 350 wrongfully convicted prison inmates. Nevertheless, ‘The Innocence Project’, an organization that assists people who have been convicted of crimes they haven’t committed, reports that the average sentence that wrongfully convicted inmates serve before being released and exonerated is still 14 years.

Mr. Coley was initially arrested after police discovered two bodies in a Simi Valley apartment. After receiving a panicked phone call from the residence, Semi Valley police arrived at the scene to find that Mr. Coley’s ex-girlfriend, Rhonda Wicht, and her 4-year-old son, Donald, had been brutally murdered.

On the same day, police arrested Mr. Coley, who lived nearby and had only just broken up with his girlfriend. At this stage, police have not yet discovered the real culprit of the double murder.

Following Governor Brown’s announcement, Ventura County officials and Simi Valley police released a joint statement on Mr. Coley’s release. "Reviewing the case in light of the new evidence, we no longer have confidence in the weight of the evidence used to convict Mr. Coley," emphasized a Ventura County spokesperson.

Online commenters have reacted to Mr. Coley’s release with a mixture of anger and appreciation. “Prosecutors will do, and say anything just to get a conviction, even when they know for sure a defendant is 100% innocent!” wrote Trace on Yahoo.

Other commenters had criticism for Governor Brown, accusing him of hypocrisy and tactfulness. “How can Gov brown pardon someone who did not commit the crime he was accused of and spent most of his life in jail,” said ‘freethepress’. “Shouldn't it be the other way around? fortunately, Mr. Coley was able to assert his innocence and the state did not execute him.”

“Pay him you took an innocent man’s life away, would of really been sad had he been given the death penalty and put to death!” declared Sean. “Makes you wonder how many innocent people have been executed because they were unfairly tried and convicted, our justice system needs an overhaul for sure!!!!”

Source: Yahoo
Photo: YouTube, Wikimedia Commons

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