California man cleared of double murder after 40 years in prison gets $21M

A Southern California man who was wrongly imprisoned for close to four decades in the killing of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old son will receive $21 million in a settlement with the city of Simi Valley, officials said.

Craig Coley, 71, was released from jail in 2017 after he was pardoned by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who said DNA evidence and re-investigation proved Coley's innocence in the 1978 murders of 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht and her son.

Forensic tests showed Coley's DNA was not on the victim's bedsheet, which contained DNA from an unknown man. Coley also had an alibi for the time of the slayings and investigators later disproved testimony from an eyewitness who placed him at the scene.

Brown pardoned Coley at the request of Simi Valley's police chief and the Ventura County District Attorney's Office and the state approved a separate settlement payment of nearly $2 million last year. A judge also declared Coley to be factually innocent.

The settlement with Simi Valley was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. City officials said the agreement would forestall long, costly and unnecessary legal proceedings.

"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. The city will pay about $4.9 million and the rest is expected to be paid by insurance and other sources.

Ron Kaye, an attorney representing Coley, said the settlement offers some closure and vindication for his client, though no amount of money can compensate him for the life he missed while imprisoned.

"He now can live the rest of his life, which we hope will be really well into the future, with the security he deserves," Kaye said.

Simi Valley police have not arrested anyone else in the killings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.