Golden State Killer suspect cleared by DNA in 1978 murders of mom and young son, disappointing man wrongly convicted in case

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.

17 PHOTOS
Golden State Killer case
See Gallery
Golden State Killer case
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who authorities said was identified by DNA evidence as the serial predator dubbed the Golden State Killer, appears at his arraignment in California Superior court in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
An investigator puts evidence bags in a sheriff's vehicle after removing them from the home of Joseph James Deangelo, who was arrested for the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Citrus Heights, California, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Melanie Barbeaux holds a photo of victims of the Golden State Killer in the courtroom as Joseph James DeAngelo, who authorities said was identified by DNA evidence as the serial predator dubbed the Golden State Killer, appears at his arraignment in California Superior court in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 27, 2018. Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench/Pool via REUTERS
A combination image shows FBI sketches of an unknown individual known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer (EAR/GSK) described as a White male, currently thought to be between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, shown in sketches released on June 15, 2016. Between 1976 and 1986, this individual was responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries throughout the State of California. FBI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
An unknown individual known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer described as a White male, currently thought to be between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, is shown in this FBI sketch released on June 15, 2016. Between 1976 and 1986, this individual was responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries throughout the State of California. FBI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
An investigator removes items in evidence bags from the home of Joseph James Deangelo, who was arrested for the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Citrus Heights, California, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Sheriff's crime scene tape surrounds the house belonging to Joseph James Deangelo, who was arrested for the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Citrus Heights, California, U.S., April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
An unknown individual known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer described as a White male, currently thought to be between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, is shown in this FBI sketch released on June 15, 2016. Between 1976 and 1986, this individual was responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries throughout the State of California. FBI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
A police officer removes items in evidence bags from the home of Joseph James Deangelo, who was arrested for the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Citrus Heights, California, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Sheriff's crime scene tape surrounds the house belonging to Joseph James Deangelo, who was arrested for the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Citrus Heights, California, U.S., April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones talks about the arrest of a suspect in the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 25, 2018. Jones along with Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, law enforcement leaders, the FBI and other elected District Attorneys from several other California counties participated in the news conference announcing the arrest of Joseph James Deangelo. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
An FBI evidence response team member walks into the garage of Joseph James Deangelo where other investigators were looking for evidence after Deangelo was arrested for the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case in Citrus Heights, California, U.S., April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
An unknown individual known as the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer described as a White male, currently thought to be between the ages of 60 and 75 years old, is shown in this FBI sketch released on June 15, 2016. Between 1976 and 1986, this individual was responsible for approximately 45 rapes, 12 homicides, and multiple residential burglaries throughout the State of California. FBI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 27: Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected 'Golden State Killer', appears in court for his arraignment on April 27, 2018 in Sacramento, California. DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer, is believed to be the East Area Rapist who killed at least 12 people, raped over 45 women and burglarized hundreds of homes throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Joseph James DeAngelo is taken on a wheel chair into the courtroom to be arraigned on two counts of murder April 27, 2018, in Sacramento, California. I - Investigators have accused him of of being the 'Golden State Killer,' who is suspected of committing more than 50 rapes and 12 murders. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage / AFP) (Photo credit should read ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 27: Joseph James DeAngelo, (L) the suspected 'Golden State Killer', appears in court for his arraignment before Judge Michael Sweet (R), on April 27, 2018 in Sacramento, California. DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer, is believed to be the East Area Rapist who killed at least 12 people, raped over 45 women and burglarized hundreds of homes throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

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.

Read Full Story