A Texas Death Row Inmate Uttered These Unsettling Final Words

Having been convicted of the murder of Christina Muse, Troy Clark was placed on death row in 2000. He protested his innocence for 18 long years, but his execution was finally scheduled for September 2018. And in the moments just before the lethal injection was administered, Clark gave a spine-chilling final statement.

In 1998 life was seemingly a struggle for 20-year-old Muse. You see, the young mom – who had been residing in the city of Tyler, Texas – was reportedly in thrall to a drug habit. And in May of that year, her life was cut tragically short. Sadly, she was murdered in a brutal killing – allegedly at the hands of her former housemate, Clark. Yet even following a conviction, he always denied that he was responsible for Muse’s death.

Prior to Muse’s death, she had shared a home with Clark and his then-girlfriend – a woman named Tory Bush. And all three of them reportedly used drugs with one another. After Muse moved out of the shared house, however, it’s claimed Clark grew paranoid that she had “snitched” on him for dealing methamphetamines.

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And it’s believed that Clark’s fear of being betrayed by Muse led to him eventually murdering her. The crime allegedly unfolded on May 19, 1998, when Muse returned to her former home to see Clark and Bush. However, at some point during the visit, Clark is said to have tasered the young mom, telling her that she “should have kept [her] mouth shut.”

After stunning Muse, Clark then reportedly taped up her mouth and bound her arms and legs before stashing her in a closet for a number of hours. And during that time, he’s said to have used a video console and sold drugs to one of his customers. Eventually, though, he apparently returned to his victim.

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Upon reportedly retrieving Muse from the closet, Clark allegedly then took her to the bathroom and placed her into the bathtub. Apparently, he directed Bush to bring him a board that he used to strike Muse across the skull. And it’s claimed that Clark subsequently forced Bush to aid him in drowning the young woman in the bath.

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Once the awful deed was done, Clark reportedly told Bush to get her hands on some lime. And according to the prosecution, he subsequently placed Muse’s corpse inside a barrel, filling it up with cement mix, water and lime. The state would later claim that Clark then heaved the barrel up onto a vehicle with the help of accomplices. Reportedly, they then dumped it in an isolated area of his landlord’s residence.

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Terrifyingly, Muse’s body wouldn’t be located by police for another four months. It was thanks in part to Bush, too, as she led the authorities to the property where Clark and his friends had dumped the blue barrel. And at this location, cops were faced with another grim sight. Yes, they uncovered yet more remains – those identified as Tracy Mize – in a septic tank.

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According to a 2018 News.com.au article, prosecutor David Dobbs spoke to reporters about the disturbing find. He said, “When you actually are out in a field, and you see a barrel with a woman’s body being taken away, and a septic tank is opened up and you see another individual floating face down in it – it really grips you.”

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Prior to Mize’s death, she had reportedly promised to reveal to the cops what she knew about Muse’s murder. Apparently, she’d hoped this would give her better odds in a narcotics case that she was embroiled in. And armed with this information, investigators speculated Clark killed Mize after finding out that she was an informant in an attempt to save his own skin.

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So, when Clark was put on trial for Muse’s murder, he was also accused of killing others – including Mize – and sexually assaulting another woman. But besides the murder of Muse, Clark wasn’t actually charged with any of these crimes. And he protested his innocence with regard to that one killing.

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Yet despite Clark’s claims of blamelessness, he made an odd remark during the trial for Muse’s murder. You see – defying the guidance of his legal representatives – he seemed to goad the jury into handing him the harshest possible punishment. Yes, Clark apparently told them, “I really ain’t got no story to tell. It’s just I want the death penalty.”

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What’s more, Clark wouldn’t let anyone – not even his mom and dad – take to the stand to help his case at the trial. Bush gave evidence against him, however, and apparently revealed the motive behind the crime as well as describing the murder in great detail. And it was seemingly her testimony that would ultimately help to convince the jury that Clark was guilty.

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Bush admitted to her part in the crime, too, claiming that she had aided Clark in moving Muse from the closet to the bath. Bush also said she brought Clark a plank of wood, which he used to beat the young mom. Furthermore, she stated that she’d helped to drown Muse – and also purchased lime on Clark’s behalf.

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What’s more, it was alleged that Bush and three associates assisted Clark in getting rid of Muse’s body the day after the murder. And in a damning piece of evidence against the defendant, those three friends backed up Bush’s claims. However, they all stated that they were unaware that the blue barrel had contained human remains.

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During the trial – according to News.com.au – prosecutor Dobbs told the jury, “I have no doubt in my mind that Troy Clark killed Christina Muse and Tracy Mize.” He added, “I’m not an expert on what causes this. I’m not an expert on what mitigation may have happened in his life. I just know that my job as a prosecutor for Smith County was to make sure our streets are safe. And our streets are safe without Troy Clark on them.”

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The evidence against Clark was seemingly enough for the jury, too, as they duly convicted him of capital murder. And on March 30, 2000, he was handed the death penalty for his crime. The extreme sentence was subsequently upheld by the Texas State Court of Criminal Appeals. However, Clark himself continued to proclaim his innocence for many years.

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Yes, following Clark’s conviction, he claimed that his lawyers had fallen short in putting forward evidence that was related to his difficult childhood. He said that he’d suffered abuse in his past, for instance. And Clark also supposedly had fetal alcohol syndrome. This occurs when a woman consumes alcohol in the midst of a pregnancy.

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Clark also maintained that he was not at his property when Muse was murdered. Instead, he claimed that he was peddling drugs at the time. And investigations were unable to establish any physical evidence to explicitly link Clark with Muse’s killing. Indeed, this was a fact that his legal team attempted to use to cast doubt over his conviction.

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In a letter entitled “Innocent” that Clark apparently penned in jail in September, he wrote, “I did not commit this horrible crime!” The message – which was subsequently posted to Murderpedia.org – was seemingly meant for a new pen-pal of the prisoner. And in the correspondence, Clark opened up about his predicament.

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Clark wrote, “My name is Troy Clark; I just turned 33 years old today. My first birthday spent here on Texas death row. I came to death row just five months ago on April 1, 2000, and the horror of being sent here is still shocking to me. How can an innocent person be sent to death row?”

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And as the years went by, Clark’s conviction was questioned by some people who opposed the death penalty – particularly as his sentence relied heavily on the claims of Bush. She was considered an unreliable witness by some, as her account had changed on a number of occasions. At one point, in fact, she herself had even admitted to the killing.

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Yes, when Bush had confessed to Muse’s murder, she had claimed that she was motivated by jealousy. She also stated that Clark had been out when the crime took place. Furthermore, according to a 2018 article by The Texas Tribune, Bush said in a police statement that if Clark was implicated in the crime, he “would just cover up for [her].”

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Bush was questioned over her different accounts at Clark’s trial, too. And while on the stand, the woman claimed that she’d previously failed to tell the truth, as she both feared and loved the defendant. Bush said, “He wanted me to change the whole story… He wanted me to lay the blame on two other people, and those two other people are dead.”

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At Clark’s trial, Bush admitted that she’d been promised only 30 years of jail time for her part in the crime – so long as she worked with the prosecution. She then accepted even lesser terms, as she pled guilty to a 20-year sentence. And Bush was subsequently released from jail before her time was up, while Clark remained on death row.

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Yes, while Clark maintained his innocence, his sentence was upheld. This was apparently due to what the appeals courts saw as significant evidence against him. And after 18 years on death row, he finally learned the date of his death. Clark was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on September 26, 2018.

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In one final effort to save Clark’s life, his legal team put forward a petition that questioned Bush’s integrity as a witness. Crucially, they pointed to the fact that she had altered her version of events numerous times. And in the papers, attorneys Jeff Newberry and David Dow stated, “Clark’s death sentence is the product of the largely uncorroborated testimony of an incentivized co-defendant and a trial attorney whose performance was abysmal.”

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Similarly, Sister Helen Prejean – an activist who opposes sentencing prisoners to death – expressed her doubts over Bush’s testimony online. Writing in 2018 on Twitter, she said, “Texas plans to execute Troy Clark on Wednesday, but there are some serious problems with his case. Troy has always maintained his innocence. Someone else made a detailed confession and then completely changed her story in exchange for a reduced sentence.”

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In another tweet, Prejean added, “Bush told investigators that she was angry because she thought that Christina was trying to take her boyfriend. Bush said that she unsuccessfully tried to use a stun gun to disable Christina. When that didn’t work, Bush said she hit Christina over the head with a wood 2×4.”

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Nevertheless, the parole board ultimately decided against granting Clark clemency the week before he was due to receive a lethal injection at Hunstville in Texas. And this death chamber is infamous throughout the United States. After all, between 1982 and Clark’s execution in 2018, over 500 prisoners’ lives came to an end there.

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So when Clark’s day of reckoning finally came around, his wife and four of his pals gathered in a room overlooking the gurney. And in the next room were the loved ones of the death row inmate’s alleged victims. But before the cocktail of chemicals was administered, Clark was granted one last statement.

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And there’s no denying that Clark’s last words were haunting. He let out a chuckle before protesting his innocence one last time. Clark said, “I’m not the one that killed Christina, so whatever makes y’all happy… I love y’all. I’ll see you on the other side. Y’all be good. Okay, Warden, I’m ready.”

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With that, then, Clark was given a deadly dose of a sedative called pentobarbital. The prisoner claimed that the “drug burned going in,” adding, “I feel it.” There was a grunt followed by a gasp before Clark drifted off into unconsciousness. Finally, he became completely still and was subsequently pronounced dead at 6:36 p.m.

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Among those present at Clark’s execution was Muse’s aunt, Margaret Bouman. Speaking to Associated Press in 2018, Bouman admitted that the experience was “kind of bittersweet.” She explained, “I’m a Christian, and the death penalty… accepting it was very, very difficult for me… But I also believe the law of the land is important.”

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Prior to Clark’s execution, a group who don’t agree with the death penalty had published a log that contained the details of the condemned man’s last 72 hours. And the record was notable simply for how seemingly normal it was. For instance, some of the everyday entries included “sitting on bunk listening to headphones” and even something as regular as “sleeping.”

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On the morning of his execution, Clark declined his breakfast. He then packed up his things and proceeded to enjoy a period with his loved ones for the last time. Unlike some death row prisoners, Clark wasn’t granted a special final meal – and was therefore offered the same fare as his fellow inmates.

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Upon his death, Clark became the 17th prisoner to be executed in the U.S. in 2018. And he was the ninth person to receive the lethal injection that year in Texas alone. But Clark was far from the last to be executed in the Lone Star State. The day after Clark died, in fact, a man named Daniel Acker was also due to take the gurney as punishment for killing his partner.

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Like Clark, Acker had continued to maintain his innocence after arriving on death row back in 2001. His defense lawyers claimed that he had killed his girlfriend Marquetta George with his car, but that she had exited the vehicle of her own volition. This would make her death manslaughter rather than capital murder.

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And following Clark and Acker’s deaths, even more people were executed at Huntsville in 2018. In fact, the number of deaths was up on the number carried out in Texas the year before. Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center has claimed that capital punishment is ultimately still on the decline, though.

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In an interview with the Houston Chronicle following Clark’s execution in 2018, Dunham claimed that he expected the numbers of executions each year to remain consistent. He explained, “Executions look as though they will remain near generational lows this year. And to the extent that there is any difference… that difference will be Texas.”

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But not every tale has ended so tragically. In fact, another man who was convicted of murdering two people – and who was duly sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars – escaped this fate. And the way that the cops eventually determined his innocence might just surprise you.

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Craig Richard Coley was condemned to spend his life in a prison cell following the brutal double murder of his ex-girlfriend Rhonda Wicht and her young son, Donald. But throughout Coley’s incarceration, he maintained his innocence and even stayed hopeful that one day he would get out. Then, after the man had spent almost four decades behind bars, alarming new DNA evidence caused the entire case to come crashing down.

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Coley came into the world in 1947 as the only child of parents Marjourie and Wilson – the latter of whom was a former Los Angeles cop. And he would go on to serve in the U.S. military, completing three tours in Vietnam during the last half of the 1960s. Little did the veteran know, though, that he would unexpectedly wind up on the wrong side of the law a few years later – and that his life would start to crumble around him.

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Firstly, though, in 1971, the then-twentysomething Coley moved out to Simi Valley, California. He had recently married, and he was setting out on a career as a restaurant manager to boot. And as the years passed, Coley held managerial posts at diners including a Rustler’s Steak House and a Howard Johnson’s.

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Yet although Coley’s marriage broke down a few years after he had arrived in Simi Valley, his love life nevertheless progressed even after the subsequent divorce. In particular, the young man started seeing an aspiring beautician called Rhonda Wicht, who worked as a server and lived in an apartment with her young son, Donald. Coley and Wicht dated for a couple of years until 1978.

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In the late 1970s, meanwhile, Simi Valley was a quiet community and considered a safe place to live. It’s unsurprising, then, that the events that unfolded there on November 11, 1978, sent shockwaves through the city. You see, on that fateful day, Wicht and Donald were discovered dead in their own home.

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On the morning of Veterans Day 1978, Wicht had agreed to act as a hairstylist for a friend’s wedding ceremony. However, after she failed to turn up to the job, an acquaintance went to her apartment. And that’s when Wicht and Donald’s bodies were uncovered.

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Horrifically, both Wicht and her son Donald had been killed in cold blood in their beds. The child had been suffocated, according to reports, while his mother had allegedly been throttled with a rope as well as battered and raped. Furthermore, Wicht’s home had apparently been trashed.

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Meanwhile, news of the appalling crime traveled quickly through the close-knit community, with word eventually reaching Coley. And after hearing about the gruesome incident, Coley decided to call the police to see if he could uncover any more details.

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It’s worth noting, too, that although Coley and Wicht had not been a couple at the time of her death, they had reportedly kept in contact. In fact, the pair apparently still kept keys for each other’s properties; in addition, it’s said, each would sometimes help the other out with laundry. However, this picture of an apparently cordial relationship was not one to which police would prescribe.

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You see, it’s believed that the cops instead painted Coley out to be an angry ex-boyfriend. They pointed out, too, that the man had the means with which to enter Wicht’s apartment, which itself did not appear to have been broken into prior to the crime. And so, within a matter of hours after the discovery of the terrible scene, Coley was taken into police custody and subsequently charged with slaying his former partner and her child.

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Coley’s murder trial was then carried out in April 1979, but the jury of 12 were not able to come to a unanimous decision. A second legal proceeding therefore took place in January 1980, which resulted in guilty verdicts for Coley on dual charges of first-degree murder. Consequently, Wicht’s former boyfriend was handed a life sentence with no chance of parole.

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But despite the second jury declaring Coley guilty of Wicht and her son’s slayings, people who knew the man continued to support him. Some of Coley’s Simi Valley neighbors signed petitions calling for the conviction to be reconsidered, for instance, while several newspapers also advocated for Coley’s innocence, too. And even the judge who had presided over Coley’s original trial condemned the guilty verdict.

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However, it was Coley’s parents, Marjourie and Wilson, who fought the hardest to prove that their only child is not a murderer. They took out a mortgage against their home in Sherman Oaks, California, in fact, and used their retirement savings to pay for new investigators and lawyers to work on Coley’s case. But all hope vanished when his final appeal proved unsuccessful, leading to the evidence related to his alleged crime apparently being destroyed.

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Yet this wasn’t the end of Coley’s story. Almost a decade after the conviction, you see, detective Michael Bender from the Simi Valley Police Department began to re-examine Coley’s case upon a friend’s recommendation. And it was then that Bender discovered a number of alarming flaws.

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For one, Coley reportedly had a reliable alibi that was able to account for his whereabouts on the night of the murders – bar 20 minutes. Nevertheless, according to the Los Angeles Times, it’s thought that this would not have been a sufficient amount of time in which to commit the crimes. And if this supposition weren’t unsettling enough, fingerprints and hair samples that had been picked up at the scene hadn’t been correctly examined, either, the publication claimed.

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What’s more, there were apparently also potential suspects other than Coley who had never been questioned. All in all, then, as Bender analyzed the shortcomings of the case, he found himself suspecting that there had in fact been a miscarriage of justice. Indeed, as he told the Los Angeles Times in 2018, “It appeared that a real investigation hadn’t occurred.”

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Bender continued to look into Coley’s case, too. In around 1991 he visited the suspect in person at the state prison in Tehachapi where he was being held. And it was during this first encounter with Coley that Bender became convinced that the individual with whom he was speaking was in fact innocent.

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Bender described his meeting with Coley in his 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times. There, he said, “In dealing with a lot of bad guys over the years, there are mannerisms and body language you come to know. He didn’t have that.” And with that in mind, Bender vowed to do everything in his power to get Coley’s case reevaluated.

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As part of Bender’s work towards said goal, he retrieved over a dozen boxes of case notes from Coley’s mother, who had become a widow after the death of her husband in 1988. However, despite Bender’s determination, he realized that his colleagues didn’t share his desire to reinvestigate the murders, and in 1991 his superiors instructed him to drop the case – or else he would lose his job.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Bender lost some of his faith in police work. And as a result, he quit as a detective and left Simi Valley altogether. But the ex-cop kept the case files and continued to work on proving that Coley had been wrongfully convicted. Coley himself tried to remain positive, too, as his years in jail continued to pass.

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One way in which Coley kept his spirits high was staying in touch with friends and family in the form of letters. He was also in regular contact with Bender, who visited him in jail and was sometimes accompanied by his daughter, Mikali, or by Coley’s mom, Marjourie, on those occasions. But despite Coley’s links to the outside world, he nevertheless found life on the inside hard.

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Indeed, Coley’s stint at the notorious Folsom State Prison was apparently particularly tough. But, regardless, he was practically the perfect inmate, helping out others behind bars through mentoring and by taking part in a support project for fellow veterans. Coley developed skills to fashion and sell jewelry, too, and in doing so earned money to pay for more investigators.

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Then, it seemed, Coley’s dogged determination to keep going eventually paid off. And Bender finally made headway in his bid to establish the man’s innocence, too. In 2015, for instance, he finally convinced the office of Governor Jerry Brown to look into the case. In 2016 Bender also conducted a meeting with David Livingstone – Simi Valley’s new head of police – who in turn began an investigation alongside the district attorney’s office in Ventura County.

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And as a result, DNA evidence relating to Coley’s case – which many believed had been destroyed – was uncovered and re-examined. This is how investigators came to find the blood, skin residue and semen of another man on bedding and clothes that had been taken from Wicht’s home. Yet while this evidence was certainly damning, it wasn’t the only breakthrough to eventually change the course of Coley’s case.

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Indeed, a supposed eye-witness account that had helped to lock Coley up was also discredited. When giving evidence in court, a resident in Wicht and Donald’s building had claimed to have noticed sounds coming from the victims’ home at 5.30 a.m. However, in the hours following the homicides, said individual had told police that he had in fact heard the disturbance at 4.30 a.m.

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Meanwhile, Coley’s alleged alibi had also been reevaluated. On the night of the murders, Coley had reportedly been hanging out with some former colleagues. He says that he had then given one of these people a lift at 4:45 a.m. And if said account were true, it would mean that Coley could not have been responsible for the noises that had apparently been heard by Wicht’s neighbor. What’s more, police detectives alleged that a nearby resident who had claimed to have seen Coley’s truck pulling away from the crime scene would not have been able to properly identify him from their apartment window.

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So, thanks to the DNA evidence and the now-discredited testimony, a clemency petition was filed in November 2017. And 48 hours after that had taken place, Coley received the news that he had been waiting for: Governor Brown had pardoned him. Consequently, Coley was finally freed from jail on the evening before Thanksgiving – after 39 years behind bars.

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And Coley spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the moment that he had heard he’d finally go free. He explained, “You dream about it, you hope for it, but when it happens, it’s a shock. To experience it was something I never thought would feel as good. It was joy – just pure joy. I got all tingly in my stomach, and then I was bawling like a baby for a while.”

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Coley also hailed Bender as his “savior,” although the former cop insisted that it was simply his duty to help others. Bender added to the Los Angeles Times, “I always believed in truth, integrity and honor. I’m glad this story has a happy ending. If I was on my deathbed knowing he was still in prison, I would have had a hard time with that.”

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But Coley and Bender’s relationship didn’t end there. After Coley was released from jail, in fact, he went to stay with Bender and his family at their home in Carlsbad, California. And it was on his way to Bender’s residence that the exonerated man got to sample his initial tastes of the outside world. The former inmate first visited an In-N-Out joint for a burger, after which he stopped by Starbucks to satisfy his caramel macchiato craving.

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What’s more, it had always been Coley’s plan to move to Carlsbad if he ever regained his freedom. The Bender family had actually relocated Coley’s mother to the city in 2004 when her health had begun to decline, you see. And touchingly, Mikali Bender had then cared for the woman until her death seven years later.

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But while Coley was blessed to have a family on which to lean, civilian life would not prove easy for the freed prisoner. He had been just 31 when he had been wrongly convicted, after all, and now he faced the prospect of starting his life once more after almost four decades of being locked up. Plus, to top things off, Coley had no driver’s license, identification, savings, credit score nor any belongings to his name.

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Coley spent his first month of freedom feeling too scared to leave his neighborhood, then, in case he was approached by cops. As his new documents began to arrive, though, he found a new lease of life by taking his red Jeep out for a spin. The former prisoner also enjoyed chatting to friends on his first ever cell phone, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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However, most of all, Coley was thrilled to have the opportunity to hang out with his newfound family – the Benders. And he took particular joy in spending time with their three-year-old granddaughter, Keira. Her grandmother, Cynthia, told the Los Angeles Times, “I call Keira my ‘little,’ and [Coley’s] my ‘big.’ In December, I took them both to see Santa.”

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In addition, February 2018 saw the California Victim Compensation Board hand Coley $1.9 million – or $140 for each day that he had been forced to live inside a cell. Said sum was in fact the highest amount that had ever been handed to an exonerated prisoner in the state of California. But while Coley told the Los Angeles Times that the cash would help him – especially given his age – the payout could, of course, never make up for the decades that he had been denied.

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Nor could Coley get much closure on the crime of which he’d been accused. That’s because no one else has been arrested in relation to the murders of Wicht and Donald. He told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s not something you can describe other than it’s painful. I went four decades not being able to grieve the woman and child [that] I loved.”

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In February 2019, however, Simi Valley agreed to another $21 million payment that Coley would receive on top of the sum that had been awarded by the California Victim Compensation Board. City manager Eric Levitt explained the importance of the payout in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. He said, “While no amount of money can make up for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this case is the right thing to do for [him] and our community.”

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Coley’s attorney Ron Kaye told the newspaper, meanwhile, that the sum had given his client some vindication. He added that the money would help piece together Coley’s life following his near-four-decade incarceration. Kay concluded of the exonerated man, “He now can live the rest of his life – which we hope will be really well into the future – with the security he deserves.”

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For his part, Coley used some of the cash to buy a home in Carlsbad near the Bender family. He also made plans to go traveling and booked a trip to Hawaii for his 71st birthday. And aside from that, Coley told the Los Angeles Times that he’d love to have a pet. He was considering getting an Australian shepherd – or perhaps a Sheltie – as a companion to stay by his side.

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Yet despite the massive payout that Coley received, it’s the small things that freedom afforded him that he appreciates the most. He explained, “What I love is being able to get up in the middle of the night to get a cold drink of water from the refrigerator or standing out on the porch at night to look up at the stars. These are things I never appreciated so much until now.”

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