San Diego

Judge Vacates Murder Conviction for Recently Pardoned Man

Craig Coley, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, hopes authorities can still find the man who killed his then-girlfriend and her 4-year-old son in 1978

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. NBC 7 first reported the story over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

Coley, 70, was convicted of killing 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht of Simi Valley and her 4-year-old son in 1978.

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

On Thursday morning, Coley woke up in Carlsbad, just blocks from the beach, a free man for the first time since Nov. 11, 1978.

Coley described his first taste of freedom in nearly four decades with one word: “Sweet.”

“It was wonderful,” he said. “In prison, you realize what you took for granted. By that, I mean, you can’t get up and go get a cup of cold water. You can’t go to the refrigerator and get a glass of milk, if you chose to do so, or just step out on the porch and take a couple breaths of air.”

“You don’t realize important those things are until it’s gone,” Coley said.

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.

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

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

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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