Craig Coley has never been a rich man. There was a time, before being wrongly convicted of murder and spending nearly four decades in jail, he juggled with several jobs to offer a home. These days now seem far away.
On Saturday, the city of Simi Valley, California, announced that it had reached a $ 21 million deal with 71-year-old Coley as part of his 1980 murder conviction and canceled in 2017. after DNA evidence proved that he was not the killer.
For Coley, the news was overwhelming. But in a phone interview organized by lawyers on Monday, he clarified one thing: "There is no money that can replace what I've lost."
"When I heard about this award, they gave me a surprise, even though I knew the opportunity existed," he said. "The big picture, the reason I get money, is where it all starts – none of that is normal."
The reason Mr. Coley receives money begins with the murder of his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend, Rhonda Wicht, and his four-year-old son, Donald, in 1978. He was arrested but his trial was completed before a jury in 1979.
The following year, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Then he spent the next 37 years in prison. His sentence was the longest ever canceled in California, said the city in his statement on Saturday.
Mr. Coley was released the day before Thanksgiving in 2017. He calls it "the most grateful day of my life".
After his release, Mr. Coley was pardoned by Governor Jerry Brown, and the California Victims Compensation Board awarded him $ 1.95 million, or $ 140 per day in jail.
"If I had not received any money from the state, I would be bankrupt," he said Monday. "I did not have any money. How can you find a job at 70 nowadays?
But if both monetary rewards are good, Coley said, they can not make up for lost time – and the state of California -.
"I will never have children, I will never have grandchildren," he said. "I lost my whole family. It goes on and on.
"While no money can compensate for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this deal is the right thing for Mr. Coley and our community," said Simi Valley City Manager Eric Levitt. in his press release. He also added that the city had decided to settle the case because "the monetary cost of a lawsuit would be astronomical".
The city's statement indicated that it would pay about $ 4.9 million on the settlement of $ 21 million, the rest from insurance and other sources.
Representatives of the Simi Valley Police Department and the prosecutor's office did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday. Levitt said the police department was still pursuing the death of Ms. Wicht and her son.
On Monday, Coley said he had obtained a degree in Bible studies in prison. He was even working on a postgraduate degree at the time of his release, he said, "but I do not know if I'll ever come back on that."
Mr. Coley stated that he planned to donate some of his funds for the establishment to a veterans organization created by a friend. And he often talks to people about the power of perseverance.
"People who are down or have difficulties, my message to them is not to give up, to tell the truth about everything, because the truth will always come back and support you," he said. "Lies never do. And God can help you, he can really.
Mr. Coley's road to freedom began in 2016 with an open police investigation on the order of officers who doubted his guilt. Tests have shown that the DNA found on a key piece of evidence did not match that of Mr. Coley.
On Monday, Mr. Coley stated that he was not angry at the people responsible for his imprisonment for all these years. "They have taken four decades of my life and I will not let them take the rest," he said. "I forgive anyone who is involved in this, whether intentional or not. I will go from the front. "