Simi Valley announced Saturday it would settle a federal lawsuit, giving Coley $21 million for his almost four decades of wrongful incarceration in the 1978 murders of Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son, Donald. Thirty-nine years is the longest prison term overturned in California, the city says.
“While no amount of money can make up for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this case is the right thing to do for Mr. Coley and our community,” City Manager Eric Levitt said in a statement, adding that going to trial would be costly and irresponsible.
Often, the wrongfully convicted face lengthy battles over how they should be compensated for their imprisonment as localities blame previous administrations and squabble over what monetary sum amounts to atonement.
Not here. In Coley’s case, every level of government appears on board. The Simi Valley Police Department reopened the case, drawing the support of Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned the Navy veteran in 2017, and the California Victim Compensation Board last year awarded him almost $2 million in compensation — $140 for each of the 13,991 days Coley was held “illegally behind bars, away from society, employment, and (his) loved ones.” Months later, Coley filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, and now the city is handing over millions more.
The city will pay about $4.9 million, with the rest coming from insurance and other sources, according to a news release.