At the time, police said it was the most heinous crime that Simi Valley had ever seen.
A young mother, Rhonda Wicht, was beaten, raped and strangled with a macrame rope in her apartment. His 4-year-old son, Donald, was suffocated in his bed, presumably because he could have identified his mother's killer.
On that morning in early November 1978, the suburban town of 75,000 people saw their first double murder. 19659004] Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her 4-year-old son, Donald, were murdered in 1978. "title =" Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her 4-year-old son, Donald, were murdered in 1978. ">
Investigators quickly focused on Craig Coley, the son of a Los Angeles retiree Angeles, a policeman who had left with the victim of 24 years for almost two years.
Coley, who worked as a night manager in a restaurant, was sentenced after a second trial.The first trial resulted in a jury hanging after four weeks of trial, deliberations, with 10-2 in favor of guilt, a second jury convicted him in 1980 on two counts of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
39 years behind bars, Coley maintained his innocence ia. Now, the authorities say they agree with him.
Gob. Jerry Brown on Wednesday forgave Coley, now 70, citing investigations in recent years that concluded he was unjustly convicted. Brown ordered the immediate release of Coley.
Simi Valley police believe that Coley is the longest serving prisoner in California and has been granted clemency.
According to the pardon, the police officers believe that the detective who originally investigated the case "mishandled the investigation or framed" Coley.
"The grace with which Mr. Coley has endured this long and unjust incarceration is extraordinary," Brown wrote in the pardon. "I hope that each and every one of the individuals responsible for the murder of Rhonda and Donald Wicht will be brought to justice."
Coley had no criminal record and was a "model prisoner" during his incarceration, avoiding gangs and engaging in religion, Brown wrote.
Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone reopened Coley's case in October 2016 after a retired detective expressed concern that Coley was guilty. The researchers later found that a key piece of evidence used to convict him contained the DNA of others but not his.
At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that a vehicle similar to Coley's was seen in the Wicht department on the night of the murder, that a bloody towel and T-shirts were found at Coley's house, and that he was depressed because Wicht wanted to separate.
But witnesses described Coley as a "second father" of Donald, and Rhonda Wicht's mother told reporters that her family thought of Coley as their son.
Defense lawyers criticized Simi Valley police for failing to investigate three other suspected suspects, according to the news accounts at the time. And Simi Valley Mirror, a weekly tabloid newspaper, published reports claiming that investigators had the wrong guy.
"Coley Truly seems to be the wrong man," read a front-page headline during the trial. An editorial named another man a suspect in the case.
Ventura County Dist. Dist. Gregory D. Totten and Livingstone issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying the authorities have reopened the case in hopes of finding the real killer or murderer
"This case is tragic," the statement said, "An innocent woman and a small child were killed. Craig Coley spent 39 years in custody for a crime he probably did not commit. The real murderer or murderers have not been brought to justice. "
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9:35 pm: This article has been updated with background information.
This article was originally published to 5:05 p.m.