The Washington Post reports that a man may have served 39 years in prison for murders that the Golden State Killer actually committed. Craig Coley was arrested hours after the bodies of Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son were discovered outside of Los Angeles in 1978. Coley was Wicht’s ex-boyfriend. Wicht had been beaten, raped and strangled, and her son was smothered to death in his bed.
Coley was convicted after two trials in 1980 of the murders and sentenced to life without parole. He maintained his innocence for the more than 38 years he served behind bars. A detective tried to get the case reopened, questioning parts of the investigation – but his requests were denied.
Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Coley last November after DNA evidence determined that Coley was not present at the crime scene. His conviction was erased at the age of 70.
The case was reopened after nearly 40 years, and investigators now believe the murders may have been committed by the Golden State Killer. Their next step is to examine suspected killer James DeAngelo’s DNA profile to determine if it matches the evidence found in the Wicht case, says The Associated Press.
In Coley’s case, a detective visited with him in the 1990s after finding areas of concern in the murder case file. Some evidence wasn’t analyzed correctly and some suspects were never pursued.
After their first meeting in 1991, the detective became convinced Coley was innocent. He was ordered to stop pursuing the case or risk being fired. He then quit his job, taking boxes of case files home with him to continue pursuing Coley’s case.
An investigation was opened in 2015 after numerous requests to many different organizations. DNA evidence was located from the case that could be tested with technology that wasn’t available in 1978, exonerating Coley of the murders completely.
*Photo credit WP Company LLC d/b/a/ The Washington Post