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Golden State Killer Suspect Cleared In 1978 Double Murder That Sent Innocent Man To Jail For 38 Years

Rhonda Wicht and her 4-year-old son Donald were murdered in Simi Valley, California in 1978. Wicht's ex-boyfriend was wrongly convicted of the killings and served nearly four decades behind bars before DNA evidence exonerated him.

By Gina Tron

DNA testing has cleared Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo of a heinous 1978 double murder, California cops say.

Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her 4-year-old son, Donald were murdered in Simi Valley in November of 1978. Wicht was raped and strangled to death with an 11-foot macrame rope in her home, The Los Angeles Times reported. The child was smothered to death in his own bed.

Although the incident shares some details with 72-year-old DeAngelo’s alleged crimes and happened within the same time frame, police had admitted earlier that linking him to the Wicht killings may be a long shot. When the DNA results came back Monday, DeAngelo’s DNA didn’t match what was found at the crime scene, cops said.

“They conclusively eliminated him as a suspect,” Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone told The Los Angeles Times.

DeAngelo has been charged with murdering 12 people across California in the 1970s and 1980s and is accused of raping more than 50 women and committing over 100 burglaries. He was arrested in April after DNA and genealogy testing linked him to the Golden State Killer crime scenes, investigators said.

Now, police are trying to find the real killer in the terrible murder of Wicht and her son. One of the reasons it went unsolved for so long is that Craig Coley, Wicht’s ex-boyfriend, was wrongly convicted in the case decades ago.  He was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and served 38 years in prison before being pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown and released last Thanksgiving Eve. He is 71 years old.

Coley was exonerated after detectives found DNA from the scene of the Wicht murders, evidence that was thought to have been destroyed. DNA tests proved that the semen found on Wicht’s bedsheets was not a match with Coley.

In May, he was given $2 million, the largest single payment issued for a wrongful conviction by California, according to The Ventura County Star in Camarillo, California. The compensation stems from a new bill signed into law in January that is intended to provide justice to people who have been wrongfully convicted.

[Photos: Getty Images, Simi Valley Police Department]