Man Wrongfully Convicted of 1978 Double Murder

The Simi Valley Police Department and the Ventura County District Attorney's Office said Monday a man who spent nearly four decades in prison for a double murder -- has been found innocent as the result of a detective's re-examination of the case.

D.A. Gregory Totten said he asked Governor Jerry Brown to immediately issue a pardon.

"Our hope is for him to be released as soon as possible," Totten told reporters at a news conference.

Craig Richard Coley, now 70, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1980 for the strangulation murders of 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son Donald two years earlier.

Authorities said the results of D-N-A tests and a new investigation of witness statements show Coley was innocent all along.

"We've determined that he is factually innocent of the crime," said Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz.

"He spent 37 years and 10 months in prison for this crime that he didn't commit," Schwartz said.

Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone said he asked a detective to open an investigation in October, 2016 -- after Livingstone had read through news clippings that detailed the crime and trial, and said he spoke with a retired detective who relayed concerns about the case.

"It wasn't a case where he [Coley] had admitted guilty to it, so from the appearances of what I read there was no DNA testing ever done," Livingstone said. 

"So I felt like now that we have that technology, let's do it."

The evidence from the murder scene and from a second location was destroyed after Coley had exhausted his appeals, Totten said.

The Simi Valley detective, Daniel Swanson, eventually tracked down samples of biologic evidence that had been preserved by private laboratories that had performed examinations during the appeals.

Livingstone declined to say if the D-N-A profiles that excluded Coley as a suspect had identified anyone else in a state or federal D-N-A database.

"We have a lot of additional work that we want to do, and by testing this evidence it's opened up avenues that have given us leads that we can now pursue," he said.

Rhonda Wicht and her son were found dead in their apartment on Buyers Street on the morning of November 11, 1978, police said.

She'd been strangled with a rope and her son had been suffocated. 

Coley was arrested later that day. He had recently ended a romantic relationship with Wicht, police said.

(Photos by Eric Leonard & courtesy Simi Valley Police Department)

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