The Mistake That Has No Remedy

Craig Coley was in prison for 37 years with no chance of parole. He was innocent, but it took technology that wasn’t available when he was convicted to prove it. Coley was released in 2017, when DNA evidence showed that the justice system had punished the wrong man, and his conviction was finally overturned. Coley was 32 when he was first arrested for the double murder of his girlfriend and her son in 1978, 34 for when he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s 71 now.

How does society compensate someone for a mistake like that?

Last month, the city of Simi Valley, California, the city that took half of Chris Coley’s life away from him., announced that it had reached a $21 million settlement with its victim. That’s something, I guess. After his release, Mr. Coley was pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown—yes, I think that was appropriate— and awarded $1.95 million by the California Victims Compensation Board, a sumptuous $140 for each day he spent in prison. Then he sued.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Simi Valley’s city manager, Eric Levitt said in part, “While no amount of money can make up for what happened to Mr. Coley, settling this case is the right thing to do for Mr. Coley and our community. Then he said that the city had decided to settle the case because “the monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical.” So it was not because the settlement was “the right thing to do,” but because it was prudent and cheapest way out of their self-made predicament.

I sometimes wonder in officials read these things before they are released. Levitt also said the police department was still pursuing leads in the deaths of Coley’s former girlfriend  and her son. Good luck with that. Maybe O.J. can help out.

Coley says that the money is nice, and getting out of prison is nicer, but there is no way to make up for what he has lost. “I’ll never have children, I’ll never have grandchildren,” he says . “I have lost all my family. It just goes on and on and on.” Nonetheless, he is determined not to be angry, bitter or vindictive. He plans to donate some of his settlement money to a veterans’ organization started by a friend.

 

51 thoughts on “The Mistake That Has No Remedy

  1. I know going to trial is expensive but even in California a trial wouldn’t cost 21 million dollars.

    There is definitely a difference between prosecutors diligently prosecuting someone they believe is guilty and just getting the wrong guy, and fabricating testimony, using unreliable jailhouse snitches, and withholding exculpatory evidence. I wonder what happened here although 21 million dollars suggests the answer.

    Here are a couple takeaways for people not in the criminal justice system. If you go to trial, you’re probably going to be convicted. I love those shows where someone is convicted and the verdict appears to be a total shock. I can see be disappointed, angry, or outraged. But you certainly had to consider it a possibility that you might be convicted even if innocent? The trial was only going one of two ways and you never thought about option 2?

    Second, if you’re guilty, you need a lawyer. If you’re innocent, you REALLY need a lawyer.

    • Your concern about a trial not costing 21 Million indicates that you left an important part of the calculation out of your equation: the amount of the jury assigned monetary
      judgement.

      There might well have been indications of malfeasance on the part of police and prosecutors, along with undue pressure to “solve the case” from local political folk that when it came out at trial the jury aard would have gone through the roof . He acted “for the good of the community”, that’s for sure.

  2. Jack wrote, “If this happened, someone, perhaps many people, were criminally negligent, assuming he wasn’t deliberately framed. Police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jury members, witnesses—everyone who contributed to this tragedy should be accountable, and ought to pay a price, including prison, if they willfully violated established procedures or laws.”

    I don’t know the circumstances around how he was convicted it’s clear that something was terribly wrong with the investigation but I really don’t understand why you included jury members in that list?

    • Presumably for being illiterate of their civic duty to the point where they allowed themselves to believe the impression “yeah this guy seems like he did it” was suitable for conviction.

      • I guess the first trial ended in a hung jury.

        All the jury has is what is presented in the trial, I just don’t understand how a jury can be held responsible for making a decision based on what they saw and heard – that’s what they are supposed to do.

        • I’d say it depends. In a hypothetical case where there’s outright fabrication of evidence or completely incompetent representation the jury could very well properly reach a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury gets sold an appeal to emotion (the kind of thing that gets expressed as “if he wasn’t guilty why did they arrest him?” or “we don’t want to let him off on a technicality”) then they’re acting unethically.

          • Luke G wrote, “If a jury gets sold an appeal to emotion (the kind of thing that gets expressed as “if he wasn’t guilty why did they arrest him?” or “we don’t want to let him off on a technicality”) then they’re acting unethically.”

            I suppose if those are the ONLY arguments that the prosecution had presented then the jury would be acting unethically; however, it would never make it beyond a preliminary hearing an be put in front of a jury if that were the only arguments the prosecution had.

            • But it’s kind of like defending the FISA warrants that were sold substantially on the basis of Hillary’s bogus memorandum, but not entirely (goes the spin.) A 4 year old kid was one of the victims. I’d bet that emotion was able to push the jury past any evidentiary issues that might have acquitted someone who wasn’t presented a s child-killer.

              • I’d bet that emotion was able to push the jury past any evidentiary issues that might have acquitted someone who wasn’t presented a s child-killer.

                I wish there was a way to punish that jury- or their descendants.

    • ?
      Because juries are too often inattentive, careless, biased, ignorant of what guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is, emotion driven, and easily manipulated. I was on a jury, and I swear, single-handedly reversed the majority verdict. These weren’t dumb jurors—they just weren’t paying attention.

      Maybe directing four productions of “12 Angry Men” had something to do with my perspective…

  3. This guy is amazingly forgiving, perhaps too much so.

    My personal disputes with religions are many, but how ethical is an omnipotent and interventionist entity that allows justice to be delayed, one might even argue destroyed, this way. Beware the God who demands all the glory, but accepts none of the blame.

    The tree of DNA knowledge is what delivered this man. No serpent or apple required.

    • My personal disputes with religions are many, but how ethical is an omnipotent and interventionist entity that allows justice to be delayed, one might even argue destroyed, this way. Beware the God who demands all the glory, but accepts none of the blame.

      Essentially, you are asking why a cruel, harsh, ugly, repellent and unjust *world* or *realm* could exist. You would take issue not only with an unjust trial (as in this case) and a god who fails to appear to rectify, but with every harsh event of the ‘here below’: a world of chaos, mutability, pain & death. There is, of course, a developed metaphysics that offers an explanation, but it can only be gotten by intellectual investigation, not bt *sentimental reaction*.

      But I would make another suggestion that, I think, Occidental religion (Greco-Chriatianity or Platonic-Christianity) would offer to a man, such as this, unjustly condemned: the opening into inner life. That is essentially what the Saints presented as a possibility.

      True, if one can only conceive of this present life-in-a-body as the beginning and ending of life, and if life were not a continuum, one would be in a more difficult position if one had been robbed of 40 years of life — and essentially of all the events of life: marriage, having children, and more — through an unjust sentence. One would almost be forced to dedicate oneself to avenging the wrong.

        • Vengeance : punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense : RETRIBUTION. Example: with a vengeance.

          1 : with great force or vehemence
          undertook reform with a vengeance

          2 : to an extreme or excessive degree
          the tourists are back—with a vengeance

          Righting a wrong is one thing. Seeking vengeance (I was not clear in what I meant) implies forceful punishment, getting even, that sort of thing.

          The man himself says that he is not choosing that route. Why?

          • Vengeance : punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense : RETRIBUTION. Example: with a vengeance.

            1 : with great force or vehemence
            undertook reform with a vengeance

            2 : to an extreme or excessive degree
            the tourists are back—with a vengeance

            Righting a wrong is one thing. Seeking vengeance (I was not clear in what I meant) implies forceful punishment, getting even, that sort of thing.

            The man himself says that he is not choosing that route. Why?

        • What is the downside to avenging the wrong?

          My present theory — it animates everything I do here — is that we can uncover and discover and know the causes of the crisis of our present. We are now in a ‘crisis of being’ which is a crisis about how Being (in the Heideggerian sense) is defined and, most importantly, lived. The rise of the Alt-Right is a weak manifestation of an underlying current with roots in Europe that obviously is a *resonance* of political, social and philosophical ideas which are latent and have, I gather, lied dormant.

          Essentially, Adimagejim expresses not a problem, or his problem, but The Problem. And that problem is the loss of encompassing horizon. What does that mean? It means a world encompassed or enclosed or surrounded & permeated with meaning; or put in other terms with ‘reason’ as in ‘a reason to exist’. Adimagejim expresses what modern man can only express: the knowledge of living in a random, chaotic world for which no ‘reason’ runs through it. Thus he confronts nihilism.

          When one faces the fact — it is in fact The Fact of Modernity — that there is no reason to the rhyme of chaotic events in an essentially insane manifestation (Reality), our spirit comes face-to-face with an annihilating force. That is, we stare into the abyss, and the abyss, horrifyingly, stares back at us. But it is not the stare of ‘the Good the True and the Beautiful’, but rather the stare of a demonic entity, or perhaps ‘demonic non-being’ is the right turn of phrase. In fact, this is what Modernity reveals to us, and this is what Modernity not so much teaches but its only genuine conclusion.

          So, as I think through your question I notice that I did not pay attention to one operative word: downside. “What is the downside to avenging the wrong?” Well, to get Christian about it, the answer would be What is the downside to ‘gaining the world but losing the soul?’ Because that is essentially what it hinges on.

          In Modernity, there is no other location for Being but here, in manifest reality. Which is to say in biological process or random interaction of the elements. In our Brave New World we now have no more horizon. *Horizon* means a limit, a container, a system that we can understand, a rhyme and a reason. Our horizon is now infinity, chaos, unending manifestation, stardust, galaxy, and a world (our own) which we have only just recently developed eyes to see. Or to put it another way, what we see is the Abyss and it does not have a human face. And, as Adimagejim puts it, this is not a God we can trust who has created this world, as it is, but rather a malevolence.

          What this means of course — if one subscribes to the theory, of course — is that, in fact, and in contradistinction to what we have been told (in lullabies and old-wife-tales), we are demonic and we serve a Demon. Because in fact, when we look into things, we do not see the Good the Beautiful and the True but rather the astoundingly violent operations of biological machinery. No thought, no care, and no meaning.

          The look from the Abyss is a deadly look: it kills. Or, it drives to madness.

          I further suggest that when it comes to *governing structures* that the facts and the ‘truths’ that I have just laid out are ‘the facts of power’. If I speak of ‘the machinations of power’ I speak of the imitation of the demonic god that rules creation. Because that is what Power is, ultimately.

          Therefore, all over again (and again and again and again) it turns back on the Thrasymachus Assertion: “Listen — I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger”.

          Now, let us reduce this to the most essential, the most basic. This means, in its essence, exactly what fascism as a naughty word means. It is an ontological word, a word that describes necessary Being (according to the logic of ‘the world’ in a Christian sense). This is also why, I suggest, the whole idea of fascism and neo-fascism and rejection of liberalism has come up and is *being debated*.

          But the actual — and the far more devastating — truth is that this is what we are and this is what we have become. See? This is why there is a manifestation of schizophrenia and social madness in our present, and this is why people are going crazy. It is the contrast between The Story (about what is) and The Truth (about what really is).

          The actual question — the Giant Question — is what power, or what nation, or what alliance of nations, or what understructure of Power, is now coalescing in our present that will carry forward this demonic knowledge and demonic realization.

          Well? Do I get some kind of gift for explaining it in such clear terms?

      • I would simply say there is no sentimentality in my comment. It is logical to point out the fallacies of religions and their alleged divinely inspired writings. Regarding the referenced continuum of life, prove it.

        Just buried my mother on this past Monday. She was in perfect physical health except all her memories of life and love were erased over seven years by Alzheimer’s disease while degrading my surviving father’s physical health in the process. The omnipotent and interventionist God who is promised and to whom so many pray is (now here’s an emotional, if not sentimental, response) getting a one finger prayer from one discerning earthly inhabitant.

        For the record, I believe in a Creator, not an omnipotent Manager.

        • I am so sorry that you and your wife had to deal with Altzheimer’s. How horrible. I always knew I was lucky that both of my parents, as they approached 90, were exactly as eccentric as they had been in their 30’s, and as far from dementia as they could be.

        • adimagejim,

          I also would like to extend my condolences. I did not notice your comment about your loss when I wrote my other reply, so if I came across as insensitive, I apologize.

          My father’s mother had Alzheimer’s, and it was tragic watching her mind erode away. I had some very difficult exchanges with my father regarding what meaning there was in losing one’s mind like she did. I don’t have any direct answer to help explain this precise suffering, and any of the generic responses I’ve heard or developed myself hardly sufficed to handle the pain caused by Alzheimer’s.

          I am very sorry for your loss.

    • adimagejim,

      You ask, “how ethical is an omnipotent and interventionist entity that allows justice to be delayed, one might even argue destroyed, this way?”

      I’m going to repose the question back to you, if you don’t mind.

      How terrible would it be for someone to undergo an injustice, and for there to be absolutely no recompense for it? If this life is all there is, how can we tolerate the idea that so many good people die terribly and tragically, and so many people escape punishment for their deeds? How can we abide when the jury acquits the man who is so obviously guilty of murder? How can we face the scars carried by the person who was abused as a child, and his abuser dies of old age without ever facing repercussions?

      What is interesting is that we don’t simply shrug at those problems and say, “That’s life.” Instead, we become outraged, because deep within we thirst for true justice. This is true whether we’re looking at a mom who killed her own child and hid the remains in the woods or we’re being passed by some jerk on the highway who is speeding twenty miles per hour over the limit? (And do we feel a thrill of satisfaction when we see the highway patrol pull that guy over?)

      It is actually these injustices that point us toward the existence of God. We thirst for justice, but we find that this life does not provide full justice. We all die with injustices left unabated, whether it is some wrong done to us, or some wrong we have committed. We strive toward justice, but at every step we are painfully aware of our inability to grasp absolute justice, that the best we can manage is some approximation.

      St. Thomas Aquinas said that nature will not produce a desire that cannot be met. If we desire true justice, then it follows that such justice must exist, for how else could we ever have a nature that is informed enough about true justice to desire it? And since we know that justice is not perfectly meted out in this life, there must be something beyond this life where all wrongs are righted, and someone who embodies pure justice that ensures that every bit of unjust suffering is compensated.

      St. Thomas Aquinas also said that the problem of evil, which is essentially what you alluded to in your question, is the greatest scandal we contend with. “If one of two contraries be infinite,” he poses, “then the other should be completely destroyed. God is posed as infinite goodness. But evil is not destroyed. Therefore God does not exist.” He rebuts this argument by proposing that God would have reasons to allow evils to exist, at least for a time. God permits evil because he can draw forth a greater good. God permits evil because he can assure that any injustice suffered can ultimately be more than compensated for.

      It has been asked, “how could anyone believe God exists when we see such suffering in the world?” I ask back, “how can we abide the suffering we see, and not believe that God exists and will make it all right in the end?”

    • Arthur in Maine wrote, “And this is among the reasons I oppose capital punishment.”

      Our justice system is not perfect and neither are investigators but what about cases where there is genuine irrefutable evidence and a confession to accompany that evidence.

      • Even with modern technology of forensics, evidence can still be planted, manipulated and/or withheld. Confessions can still be coerced. Rare, to be certain, but not without precedent. For the nonce, at least, capital punishment remains irreversible.

          • And that happens… how often, exactly? I’m in agreement with Luke G: “It’s not that I can’t conceive of a single set of circumstances that is so irrefutable you could justify death- it’s that I don’t think you can so carefully phrase your laws and rules that you can avoid mistakes like this one.”

            Blackstone’s ratio comes into play, at least in my opinion.

            • Arthur in Maine wrote, “And that happens… how often, exactly?”

              Seriously? There are still and video cameras everywhere. As video cameras become more and more compact and people are videoing and photographing everything they do, video all around their homes and workplaces for security, video all over public areas for traffic etc, The chance of criminal acts being videoed as they actually happen is growing so fast that I’m surprised it hasn’t been used to convicted people already including murders that might end up with capital punishment – maybe irrefutable video already has and we just don’t know about it.

              Still and video cameras are everywhere!

            • “Blackstone’s ratio comes into play, at least in my opinion.”
              After more than forty years in law enforcement, I can assure you that far more than 100 truly guilty offenders go unpunished for every truly innocent person who is falsely convicted, so Blackstone can rest easy. I would never defend any person involved in a deliberate attempt to convict an innocent person, but I can honestly say I never experienced such a thing during my career in my little neck of the woods.

    • Ditto. It’s not that I can’t conceive of a single set of circumstances that is so irrefutable you could justify death- it’s that I don’t think you can so carefully phrase your laws and rules that you can avoid mistakes like this one.

      • That’s true. To answer Arthur’s point, they found four $&^# severed heads in Dahmer’s kitchen. That, along with everything else (and the guy who just escaped with a handcuff still attached), is pretty damn irrefutable. To Luke’s point, though, it is impossible to limit the death penalty to THOSE cases (although I wish we could).

          • Even film, though, is subject to manipulation. It would have to be from multiple angles, as Zoltar said, start way before the incident, capture the entire incident, and continue to roll. Jack Ruby is a good example but maybe the only example.

            • Not really. That’s like arguing that the moon landing was a fake. Jack Ruby shot Oswald on live TV. The fact that video can be faked doesn’t mean that all video is inherently dubious.

              • Didn’t say ALL video is inherently dubious. Merely pointing out that it can be, and that the ability to create convincing video (from multiple simultaneous angles) is already here – and that technology is improving rapidly. And back to the original point: this thread is about a chap who was wrongly convicted, based on whatever evidence the state put forward. Technology improves; he was ultimately exonerated. Good. But technology improves in other ways, too – not all of them in support of civil liberties.

  4. After his release, Mr. Coley was pardoned by Gov. Jerry Brown—yes, I think that was appropriate

    A pardon is a declaration of guilt, not innocence. See Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79, 94 (1915)

    Nonetheless, he is determined not to be angry, bitter or vindictive.

    there is no other logical way to feel.

    I forgive anyone who was involved in this, if it was intentional or not. I am going to move forward

    I wonder if the idea of forgiveness originated from people who wanted to escape accountability for hurting others.

    Police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jury members, witnesses—everyone who contributed to this tragedy should be accountable, and ought to pay a price, including prison, if they willfully violated established procedures or laws. Colley may not be angry, but we should be.

    All involved should be executed.

    It would be the only way to restore honor.

  5. Juries aren’t immune from criticism. I served on the jury for a capital murder trial. We began split, with one half convinced, “He has to be guilty of something.” The other half of us said the state didn’t prove the charge. Photos were shown during that weren’t officially entered into evidence. So, we couldn’t review them. Sloppy investigative work (don’t get murdered over a holiday weekend). We spent days discussing the testimony. We asked to see and touch specific evidence. It was one of the most stressful times in my life. We finally returned a Not Guilty verdict. If we had not had 6 people who began with the presumption of innocence and the burden being on the state it could have been very different.

  6. Along this line, I will suggest for your viewing pleasure “An Innocent Man” on Netflix streaming. A video adaptation of Grisham’s book of the same name and its a reasonable adaptation, although I have a couple of episodes to go.(I read the book, so I know the ending; I’m interested in how they present it to the non-reading public.) The story, a true story, includes 2 crimes, poorly investigated to the level of nearly criminal, that resulted in one death sentence that came within a week of being carried out.
    If you don’t stream Netflix get the book at the library…so far I prefer how the book has presented it; greater detail.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.