Simi Valley man pardoned after 39 years for wrongful conviction

On Nov. 11, 1978, residents of Simi Valley were shocked to learn that a 24-year-old mother and her 4-year-old son had been brutally murdered in the town. Rhonda Wicht and her son Donald were the victims, and her former boyfriend, Craig Richard Coley, then 31, was arrested the same day and charged with murder.

For 39 years Coley maintained his innocence, and on Wednesday, Nov. 22, Gov. Jerry brown announced that Coley would be released from federal state prison after new DNA evidence indicated that he had not been the killer.

Craig Richard Coley, then and now.

Coley’s first trial resulted in a 10-2 hung jury, but he was tried again in 1980, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 2016, a retired detective told investigators that DNA on a key piece of evidence was not Coley’s. Using new DNA testing technology, investigators acquired the evidence and tested it again.

“Reviewing the case in light of the new evidence, we no longer have confidence in the weight of the evidence used to convict Mr. Coley,” Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said in a statement. “We also believe that the evidence, as we know it, would meet the legal standard for a finding of factual innocence.”

Totten went on to say that an investigation will continue to find the true perpetrator.

Road rage driver apprehended in Ventura

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, at approximately 9:50 p.m., a road rage incident resulted in the arrest of Thomas Riddle, 50, for assault with a deadly weapon.

Police say the incident began in the parking lot of Kohl’s at Telephone Road and Portola Road in Ventura, when the victims, two 21-year-olds, allegedly threw a soda at Riddle’s vehicle. Riddle followed the victims out of the parking lot and rammed their vehicle with his own, at which point his vehicle was disabled. The victims managed to flee from the scene and call 911.

The incident is under investigation. Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call the VPD Traffic Division at 339-4323.

Five charged in nationwide debt collection scheme

Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten announced on Tuesday, Nov. 14, the filing of felony charges against three individuals accused of grand theft, theft from an elder, money laundering and conspiracy to commit false advertising as well as aggravated white-collar crime for stealing over $100,000.

Timothy Edmond Burke Jr. and Deisi Tapia Rivera, both of Las Vegas, Veronica Esther Ventura of Oxnard, Angela Maire Covarrubias of Ventura and Elizabeth Angie Olvera of Santa Paula are accused of running a fraudulent debt collection business targeting individuals throughout the United States from their headquarters situated in Ventura County.

Burke and Rivera operated several fraudulent debt collection services, including Nationwide Debt Busters, Walker Adams and Associates, Financial Service Bureau, Steven Chasity and Associates and Rutter Riesman and Associates offering debt collection services to business. After businesses paid upfront fees, however, no services were provided and collected funds were not given to the creditors. Burke and Rivera allegedly used the proceeds to fund personal expenses.

Ventura joined the duo in 2015, acting as general manager, and Covarrubias and Olvera joined in 2016 collecting money from victims.

A disposition conference is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 4, in Ventura. Burke and Rivera are currently in custody at the Ventura County jail on $1.1 million bail. Covarrubias and Olvera are out of custody on bail and Ventura is on supervised community release pending the next court hearing.