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DNA test exonerates California man in prison since 1978 for a double-murder he never committed

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A man wrongfully convicted in California of the 1978 double-murder of a woman and her child is spending his first Thanksgiving Day as a free man in 39 years, after being released on the basis of DNA evidence.

California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned 70-year-old Craig Coley on Wednesday and prison officials quickly set him free, according to prosecutors and police in Simi Valley, where the double-slaying occurred.

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Local authorities in Simi Valley, a community just outside Los Angeles, supported the governor’s decision.

“The grace with which Mr. Coley has endured his lengthy and unjust incarceration is extraordinary,” Brown wrote in the two-page document ordering Coley’s release. “I grant this pardon because Mr. Coley did not commit these crimes.”

More than 350 people have been exonerated by DNA testing in the United States since 1989, according to New York-based The Innocence Project, which helps people who were wrongfully convicted. On average, convicts who were freed had served 14 years in prison when exonerated.

Coley was convicted in the 1978 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Rhonda Wicht, and her 4-year-old son, Donald, at the apartment where the mother and child lived.

Wicht was beaten and strangled and the boy was smothered to death, Simi Valley police said in a statement on Monday. Coley, who had recently broken up with Wicht, was arrested the day the bodies were discovered.

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Coley, who had no criminal history, may have been framed, Brown wrote in the pardon.

In 1980, Coley was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

He always maintained his innocence, and the governor said that, in prison, Coley turned to religion and avoided gangs. After he appealed to Brown for clemency, the governor ordered a review in 2015.

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Biological samples once thought to be lost or destroyed were discovered at a private laboratory, Simi Valley police said, and investigators analyzed a key piece of evidence.

It showed Coley’s DNA was not present on the sample. Instead, it bore traces of other people’s DNA.

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The statement from Simi Valley police did not describe the object, saying only that technology for testing the item was not available when Coley was convicted.

“Reviewing the case in light of the new evidence, we no longer have confidence in the weight of the evidence used to convict Mr. Coley,” Simi Valley police and Ventura County prosecutors said in a joint statement earlier this week.

They called the case tragic and pledged to continue reviewing it to determine if they can establish who killed the mother and child 39 years ago.

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(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)


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2020 Election

‘Scared’ Republicans ask House minority leader to lay out an agenda since Trump can’t

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has handed out talking points describing the GOP agenda for the upcoming election, since President Donald Trump has been unwilling to chart a course himself.

Some lawmakers "were scared" when Trump was unable to detail his second-term strategy when asked in a recent interview, so several Republicans asked McCarthy to produce an agenda for their own re-election campaigns, reported Axios.

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‘I don’t even know where to start’: CNN analyst tears into Trump’s plan to give re-nomination speech at White House

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On CNN Wednesday, CNN analyst Dana Bash slammed President Donald Trump's new plan to give the GOP re-nomination speech at the White House.

"I mean, I don't even know where to start," said Bash. "There is a law called the Hatch Act, where it says that you're not supposed to politic from government grounds. The president is exempt from that, so it may be legal grounds for him to stand on, relatively firmly, to do this at the White House. There are questions about the aides that are working for him to do it. But let's just talk about whether it's appropriate."

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Trump’s claims about mail voting were always incoherent — and now they’re falling apart

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I don't know about you, but when I saw Donald Trump do an abrupt pivot on his crusade to depict mail-in voting as a form of voter fraud on Tuesday, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

That certainly wasn't because I believe he's seen the light and has realized that mail-in voting is perfectly safe, or that he realizes it's imperative at a time when in-person voting may expose people to the deadly coronavirus. No, it was because he singled out Florida as the one state he believes really knows how to handle elections. Anyone who was around 20 years ago to observe the 2000 election will understand why I felt that awful sense of dread.

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