Golden State Killer suspect cleared
Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo has been cleared of any link to the 1978 murders of a mom and her young son — leaving the man wrongfully convicted of the brutal slayings disheartened but not surprised.
“It’s disappointing, but I expected this. I was just hopeful something would happen sooner rather than later,” Craig Coley, the innocent man who spent decades behind bars in the case, told the Daily News.
“It’s hard, especially for the family. It’s hard to have all this uncertainty,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.
It was this week that police in southern California confirmed DeAngelo’s DNA did not match evidence in the cold case murders of Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her 4-year-old son Donald, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Coley spent almost 40 years in prison for the Simi Valley murders before he was fully exonerated last year.
The Vietnam veteran dated Wicht shortly before her death and was tossed in the notorious Folsom State Prison to rot after two trials, despite the fact he staunchly maintained his innocence, had an alibi and was the son of a retired police officer.
When new DNA testing proved he wasn’t the killer, Ventura County prosecutors sought his release.
California Gov. Jerry Brown eventually cleared him of all charges, and he was released last November.
After DeAngelo’s arrest in April, Deputy Chief Joseph May of the Simi Valley Police told CBS affiliate KCAL that investigators submitted DNA from the 1978 killings to see if it synced up with DeAngelo.
Wicht reportedly had been raped and strangled with a rope. Sex assault and the use of rope were hallmarks in cases linked to the Golden State Killer.
“It’s within the realm of possibility that he could be a suspect in our case,” May previously told the channel.
Coley, now 71, said Thursday he believes Wicht knew her killer personally.
“I have no doubt that this case is going to be solved, it’s just matter of when,” he said. “The new investigators are doing things thoroughly and completely. They have more technology now.”
He said the extra attention brought to the case by the failed Golden State Killer testing could ultimately prove helpful if it leads someone with information to step forward.
“It keeps things alive and keeps people aware that there’s still a vicious murderer out there,” he told The News. “I pray to God Rhonda and Donald were his only victims. I pray that there weren’t more victims due of the way they mishandled my case.”
DeAngelo, meanwhile, remains in custody in Sacramento on charges he murdered 12 people in four counties.
Authorities believe the 72-year-old former cop also raped some 50 victims throughout the Golden State during a reign of terror spanning at least 1974 to 1986.
Former Contra Costa County criminologist Paul Holes was the first to track DeAngelo down by submitting crime scene DNA to an open-source ancestry website that lets users compare genetic profiles from competing services to find more relatives.
When the website matched the killer’s profile to a possible relative, Holes and his colleagues built out that relative’s family tree to find someone resembling the killer’s profile.
They landed on DeAngelo and surreptitiously collected his DNA from a car door handle and a tissue fished out of his trash can for the further testing that led to his arrest, warrant records released by a judge said.