Craig Richard Coley Free at Last
$79,816 of $100,000 goal
Craig is ending 2018 with a heart full of hope, faith, and gratitude. GFM donors helped him transition to self-sufficiency and restored his faith in humanity. He celebrated his first Christmas in 40 years in his own home, and with the means to buy presents for his friends and family. He wants to start 2019 by giving back. He is not accepting donations any longer and would like to redirect any future donations to one of his favorite charities; THANK A VET. We have set up a GoFundMe page for them located here : Craig donated $80,000 to TAVNOW.org
Craig first learned of THANK A VET when Army Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta visited his veterans group in prison. They are a unique nonprofit service organization comprised of Veterans and Volunteers, all sharing the common goal to serve and honor veterans.
Craig and I will continue to speak at law enforcement trainings in hopes to help prevent wrongful convictions. I will post significant updates on this page, but day-to-day updates are posted on his community Facebook page located here :
Free after 4 decades of wrongful imprisonment
My name’s Mike, and I have an important story to share. Craig Coley’s (now 70) life stopped when he was just 31 years-old; he was unjustly taken from his friends, family, and those he loved. He needs our help to live in peace, comfort, get healthy, and make up for stolen decades of life and memories. He will need everything from his own place to call home, to kitchen utensils, clothing that fits, to a car that will help him feel independent once again.
Craig Coley was arrested on Veteran’s Day in 1978, after serving his country honorably in the Navy. He was wrongfully convicted of a double murder and held in maximum security prisons throughout California for the past 39 years.
Craig was the only child of Marjourie and Wilson Coley, both of whom passed away while their son was incarcerated. While I am disappointed I never got to meet the great man that raised Craig, I had the pleasure of taking Marjourie to visit Craig in prison over the years. We were able to save several boxes of family photos for Craig, including his dad’s LAPD police badge and photos from when Craig served in the US Navy.
Despite his dire situation, Craig worked hard while locked up. He volunteered, was a member and officer with Veterans Affairs, and belonged to V.E.T.S. (Veterans Embracing Troops). He was a participant and mentor for the bible study group with the college program; he earned his Associates degree in Theology, his certificate as a Biblical Counselor, and in 2017 received his Bachelors of Arts in Biblical Studies while starting on his Master’s degree.
Faith played a large role in Craig’s life during his time in prison. “I give God almighty all Glory and Praise for who I am today and what he has done for me,” says Craig. “He brought Mike into my Mother's and my life who has worked on my release for thirty years and succeeded. [Once I complete my Master’s] I will be better prepared to help those in need in whatever capacity fits God’s plan for my life.”
For the past 29 years since I learned of the case, I have tried to get numerous government agencies and organizations involved in correcting this injustice and finding the real killers. It wasn’t until Simi Valley Police Department’s current Chief of Police, Dave Livingstone, allowed Detective Dan Swanson to investigate the murders, that the “evidence” used to wrongfully convict Craig was invalidated and the real suspect(s) were pursued.
On November 20th, 2017, I was overjoyed when the Simi Valley Police Department and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office held a press conference and recommended the immediate release of Craig based on new DNA evidence obtained and an exhaustive investigation.
On November 22nd, 2017 , Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. granted a full and unconditional pardon to Craig Coley. He stated he granted the pardon because Craig did not commit the crimes and was innocent. The Warden drove Craig to our home that night.
We have brought Craig to San Diego to get him acclimated to freedom and are helping him get the necessities he needs to enjoy his freedom and live life. Craig looks at children like our little granddaughter just starting life and prays that she, or anyone, will not have to experience what he has been through. He knows this is a process. Above all he is thankful, and he knows that he wants to heal and help others less fortunate.
Together, we returned to Simi Valley for the first time since his wrongful conviction nearly 40 years ago. We met with the officer that was told to arrest him in 1978 and removed his arrest photo from the history wall at SVPD. It was a healing meeting for all.
Craig has never given up and has always been a kind and forgiving man. Despite the injustices committed against him he cares deeply for the victim’s family and what they have been through.
In the last few months, Craig has reached major milestones. After lots of work, we were able to get him registered with the DMV, enroll in VA health care, and he passed his written test for his learner’s permit to drive again. He also received his Biblical Counselor Certification from Channel Islands Bible College and Seminary.
We recently found out that his application for victim’s compensation could not be processed until January 22nd, the State did not allow one to apply until 60 days after their exoneration and release from a wrongful conviction. Depending on the State Legislature, it could take a year before he could see any money.
Craig is extremely grateful for the contributions made so far. He has been spending some of his free time sending “Thank You’s” to all those that have donated. At age 70 his employment opportunities are limited and he needs assistance with housing, food, clothing, medical expenses, living expenses and the ability to enjoy this planet from outside of prison. As soon as he gets his ID, and can open a bank account, he can start using the GoFundMe money to create a life of his own. He feels blessed but he knows there is still a long road ahead. Craig is still taking all of it in and is appreciative of every moment being a free man. GoFundMe Studios made a video about our story and you can watch it above.
Thank you for listening to our story, making a donation, and sharing this link with your family, friends, and community: https://www.gofundme.com/craig-richard-coley-free-at-last
It is with a grateful hearts that we are announcing this update.
I first met Sergeant Major Retired Jesse Acosta when he and his organization Thank A Vet, visited prison. You see, my concern and desire to help veterans and their families goes back a few years. Being a U.S. Navy and Vietnam Veteran myself, we wanted to make a difference even if it started out small and even if we were in prison.
In prison, we (Andrew Kicking Horse, U.S. Army Veteran and myself ) volunteered and co-founded VET, Veterans Embracing Troops, raising money through inmate fundraisers for Blue Star/Gold Star Mothers to provide postage and items for care packages to deployed servicemen and servicewomen. Other organizations benefitted too, including TAV. Sergeant Major Retired Jesse Acosta visited and spoke to our group on several occasions and when I was released from prison in 2017, he assisted me in navigating through veterans affairs for medical help.
No one understands a veteran like a veteran and no one understands a wounded veteran trying to acclimate to civilian life like Sargent Major Retired Jesse Acosta and his Thank A Vet Team. They fill the gap between government assistance and real life needs.
The daily needs of others resonates with me along with the difficulty in asking for help when feeling alone. Mike and his entire family and GoFundMe helped filled my gap and gave me opportunities I may not have had without them.
I am grateful that we, you and I through your generosity and kindness to me in my time of need, through your GoFundMe donations, today WE can pay it forward to a better life for a wounded veteran, a homeless veteran, a veteran trying to support a family, a veteran who is alone, a veteran who deserves a better life for all he/she has sacrificed.
I continue to admire Jesse's strength and dedication to their cause and our ability to further that cause gives us great satisfaction.
Again, with grateful hearts, we donate the entire amount raised through GoFundMe, to Thank A Vet, in the amount of $80,000.
Thank you to our Heavenly Father, our GoFundMe family, and all of our family and friends for making this possible.
Respectfully yours with sincere gratitude, blessings and love,
Craig Coley & Mike Bender
For further information on TAV go to: https://www.tavnow.org/about
To contribute to TAV go to: https://www.gofundme.com/craigandmikethankavet
After a 5-hour drive, I was taken to the home of Mike Bender. If it wasn’t for Mike and his family and the devotion and relentless work he put in for 30 years on my case, I would not be where I am today. Mike set up a GoFundMe account for me and had it ready when I woke up the next day. Donations began coming in from all over the world. It was a fantastic feeling to have someone care enough for me to send $5, or $25 or $250 and help me build a life. And so I did.
With your donations I purchased some clothes, and some shoes and socks. I had not shopped in 39 years. I purchased a cell phone, and a computer. Never having used these things before, but knowing it allowed me to be connected in today’s world. I set up and Uber account so I could get around to medical appointments and learn the area I was living in. I purchased driving lessons and I got a driver’s license. I purchased a vehicle and I got insurance. I purchased gas for my car and I bought groceries. I was so blessed and grateful to have these donated funds to acquire the basic necessities to rebuild a new life after 39 years of a life I did not choose. I did not have to rely on Mike or anyone else because of these generous and kind donations.
At almost 71 years of age, I am not sure how I would have been successful with no way to have access to funds, if these donations did not exist. I felt almost non-existent and I was not eligible for any kind of credit or services.
I want to say, again, Thank You! to everyone who donated. Your donations gave me purpose, independence, and opportunity. Your donations gave me hope and touched my heart. I am so grateful.
Now, because I will be receiving a settlement for my wrongful conviction, I want to pay it forward. I want to help others the way you all helped me. To do this, I plan to donate the amount raised here to THANK A VET.
Thank you for helping me build my life and for giving me the opportunity to pay it forward.
I will continue to post updates,
Rick Freeman and fellow friends at the Villages in FL gave freedom to 20 cats and 15 dogs in Craig's honor, by paying all fees and making their entire adoptions easy and free of charge for some family or kid looking for a companion.
Craig wants to start 2019 by giving back. He is not accepting donations any longer and would like to redirect any future donations to one of his favorite charities; THANK A VET. We have set up a GoFundMe page for them located here: https://www.gofundme.com/craigandmikethankavet