SIMI VALLEY (CBS13) — Joseph James DeAngelo faced a judge for the first time in Sacramento Friday, following his arrest on Wednesday. Now police in Southern California suspect he may be connected to a double murder in their area.
For 40 years, investigators in Simi Valley thought they had the right man behind bars. Craig Coley was convicted and spent four decades behind bars. He was released last fall after DNA evidence cleared his name.
“I always had hope,” Coley said. “Sometimes it was stronger than others.”
Coley spent 39 years in a jail cell. His alleged crimes: the 1978 murder of 24-year-old Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son Donald.
“From the Day 1 when they arrested me, I told them ‘Look, do what you wanna do to me but keep looking, you have the wrong man,’” Coley explained.
Wicht was beaten, raped and strangled, while Donald was smothered in his sleep. Detectives turned to her ex-boyfriend Coley as their main suspect.
“Any legal charge against anybody is a search for the truth,” he said. “But the truth is the truth. It doesn’t change. I’ve told them the same story since they arrested me before I even went to trial.”
Part of his criminal case hinged on DNA. Using the science in courtrooms was in its infancy then and not widely accepted as reliable until the late 80s. Coley was convicted and incarcerated. Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown gave Coley a full pardon saying that the evidence was faulty and he was wrongly convicted.
Forty years later, Simi Valley police want to check the DNA profile in the death of Rhonda Wicht and her son against that of Joseph DeAngelo thinking it might be the match they never made.
Now 70 years old, Coley says he feels cheated yet he’s still working on moving forward with his life.
“People need to realize that these things occur out there,” he said. “Police are human, they make mistakes.”
Coley expects to receive some money in a lawsuit. But says there’s no amount that can make up for spending more than half of his life behind bars.