Man Who Spent 38 Years in Prison After Wrongful Murder Convictions Gets $21 Million Settlement

Simi Valley reached a $21-million settlement with a man who spent more than 38 years wrongfully incarcerated in the brutal 1978 murders of a woman and her 4-year-old son, officials said.

Craig Coley, 71, was released from prison in 2017 after he was pardoned by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who said that DNA evidence and a painstaking re-investigation of the Simi Valley murders proved his innocence.

The city said Saturday that the agreement would mitigate long, costly and unnecessary legal proceedings. Simi Valley will be on the hook for roughly $4.9 million of the settlement, while the rest is expected to be paid by insurance and other sources, officials said.

“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,” City Manager Eric Levitt said in a statement. “The monetary cost of going to trial would be astronomical and it would be irresponsible for us to move forward in that direction.”

The state approved a separate, much smaller payout last year. Brown approved a $1.95-million payment for Coley — $140 for each day he was wrongfully behind bars — that marked the largest payout by the state’s Victim Compensation Board for an erroneous conviction.

The victims were discovered by a relative who grew concerned when Rhonda Wicht didn’t show up for a family get-together. The 24-year-old had been strangled with an 11-foot macrame rope, her son, Donald, smothered in his bed.

Coley, a Vietnam War veteran who was going through a breakup with Wicht, was held for questioning that day and ultimately charged with the two murders. He did not have a prior criminal record.

A key witness against Coley was Wicht’s next-door neighbor, who said she heard banging noises and saw Coley’s truck parked outside the apartment complex the morning of the murders. She testified that someone with medium-length hair drove it away.

Another neighbor who lived downstairs told jurors that he heard noises from Wicht’s apartment at 5:30 a.m.

At Coley’s first trial, jurors spent four weeks deliberating before announcing they were deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of guilt. A second jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder in 1980, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But he always maintained his innocence. A retired Simi Valley detective named Mike Bender was instrumental in pushing law enforcement agencies to reexamine the case.

Bender has said that in 2015, he caught the right ear in Brown’s office. A year later, Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone also launched an investigation, just as he was taking the helm of the department.

In Coley’s claim for compensation and other court filings, his attorneys and prosecutors detailed troubling inconsistencies in the evidence against him.

The neighbor who heard noises from downstairs first told police, hours after the murders, that he heard the commotion not at 5:30 a.m., but an hour earlier, exactly when Coley, who worked as a night manager at a restaurant, was out socializing with former co-workers. Coley dropped one off at 4:45 a.m.

The new investigation also raised questions about Wicht’s next-door neighbor’s claim that she had seen a man matching Coley’s description drive away the morning of the killings. Exactly 39 years after Wicht’s murder, detectives returned to the neighbor’s apartment to peer out her window.

There was no way, they concluded, that she could have seen from her window whoever was inside a truck parked outside.

But the most indisputable finding that officials said supported Coley’s innocence came when detectives located DNA evidence once thought destroyed.

Craig Coley when he was booked on suspicion of murder, left, and after he was informed by authorities that he’d been cleared

A piece of Wicht’s bedsheet the night she was found dead contained another man’s sperm, along with a man’s epithelial cells. Coley’s DNA was not found on the sheet.

Investigators also tested stains, blood and semen on a child’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt that police at the time said they discovered in a pile of dirty clothes during a search of Coley’s apartment after the murders. New tests on the shirt revealed the boy’s DNA, as well as the sperm of several individuals. None of them matched Coley.

Soon after Coley was pardoned, a judge declared him factually innocent. Simi Valley police have not arrested anyone else in the killings.

Ron Kaye, an attorney representing Coley, said the settlement offers some closure and vindication for his client, though no amount of money can compensate him for the life he missed while imprisoned.

“He now can live the rest of his life, which we hope will be really well into the future, with the security he deserves,” Kaye said.

Craig Coley spent more than 38 years incarcerated for a grisly 1978 double murder in Simi Valley that he didn’t commit.

2019 IRS Tax Refund Schedule

If anyone tells you that they have the 2019 tax filing season all figured, they’re lying. By all accounts, the upcoming tax season is going to be tricky. Despite a shoestring staff due to the shutdown, new tax forms and new tax rules, the 2019 tax season is still set to open on January 28, 2019. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) claims that the season will operate as close to normal as possible—including issuing tax refunds.

So when are those tax refunds coming? Assuming no delays, what follows are my best guesses for expected returns based on filing dates and information from the IRS:

No matter when you filed your tax return, if you claimed the EITC or the ACTC, don’t forget to take into consideration the required hold. Keep reading for more.

I can’t stress enough that these are simply educated guesses. I like math and charts as much as the next girl, but many factors could affect your tax refund.

My numbers are based on an expected IRS receipt date beginning on the open of tax season, January 28, 2019, through the close of tax season on April 15, 2019. To keep the chart manageable, I’ve assumed the IRS received your e-filed tax return on the first business day of the week; that’s usually a Monday, but if there’s a holiday (like President’s Day), I’ve skipped ahead until Tuesday. If you file on a Tuesday, the chart assumes that your refund will be processed the following Monday. That’s true even though the IRS can receive and process tax returns on each business day.

The same logic holds true for issuing tax refunds. For purposes of the chart, I’m assuming that the IRS will issue your direct deposit within two weeks of receipt of your return and issue paper checks the following Friday. In reality, the IRS issues tax refunds on every business day, so the date could move forward or backward depending on the day your return was received.

The IRS says that most refunds are issued within 21 days. Statistically, the IRS has pegged the number at 90%. Anecdotally, taxpayers with fairly straightforward returns and no flags or other issues receive their tax refunds in an average of 10-14 days. That means that assuming a window within 2-3 weeks of receipt—not from the date of filing or mailing—from the following Monday is a reasonable assumption.

Other sites may have different numbers, but remember they’re just guessing, too, since the IRS no longer makes their tax refund processing chart public. Do not rely on any tax refund chart—mine included—for date-specific planning like a large purchase or a paying back a loan. Relying on a date certain, especially in uncertain times, is a recipe for disaster.

Finally, don’t get ahead of yourself if you claim the earned-income tax credit (EITC) and the additional child tax credit (ACTC). By law, the IRS must wait until mid-February to begin issuing refunds to taxpayers who claim the EITC or the ACTC. In addition to normal processing times for banks, factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the earliest EITC and ACTC-related refunds are expected to be available on February 27, 2019; that’s assuming direct deposit and no other issues. If you’re looking for more information, the “Where’s My Refund?” tool will be updated with projected deposit dates for affected filers after February 23, 2019.

If you want to get your tax refund as fast as possible, the IRS recommends that you e-file your tax return and use direct deposit. If you file by paper, it will take longer. The IRS notes that processing times can take up to four weeks in a “normal” tax season, and this tax season promises to be far from normal. 

Even if you request direct deposit, you may still receive a paper check. Since 2014, the IRS has limited the number of refunds that can be deposited into a single account or applied to a prepaid debit card to three. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will instead receive a paper check. Additionally, the IRS won’t issue a refund by direct deposit into just any account: It can only be deposited into an account in your name, your spouse’s name or both of your names if married with a joint account. If there’s an issue with the account, the IRS will send a paper check.

If you’re looking for more information about the timing of your tax refund, don’t reach out to your tax professional. Instead, the IRS encourages you to use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool. Have your Social security number or ITIN, filing status and exact refund amount handy. Refund updates should appear 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after you mailed your paper return. The IRS updates the site once per day, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check more than once during the day.

If you’re looking for tax information on the go, you can check your refund status with IRS2Go, the official mobile app of the IRS. The app includes a tax refund status tracker.

If, after 21 days following the day you e-filed your return, or six weeks since you filed your paper return, you still haven’t received your refund and you did not claim the EITC or ACTC, there may be a problem. There might be an error on your return, it may be incomplete or require review, or you may have been impacted by identity theft. If the IRS needs more info, they will contact you by mail. Otherwise, you can try calling the IRS, but remember that phone lines may be affected by the shutdown. The days leading up to President’s Day weekend (February 16-18, 2019) are the busiest for IRS, so expect longer than average wait times even if the government is back in business.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2019/01/21/2019-tax-refund-chart-can-help-you-guess-when-youll-receive-your-money/#1e5337a54ba2

Kelly Phillips Erb Senior Contributor


Martin Luther King Jr HOLIDAY

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an American holiday honoring one of the most influential and iconic leaders of the civil rights movement. It is celebrated each year on the third Monday of January, near his birthday of January 15th.

History


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

King was born in 1929. His given name was Michael, but later he had it changed to Martin. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia attending segregated public schools. After earning his high school diploma and starting college at only 15 years old, he went on to obtain a doctorate in 1955. While working on his doctorate in Boston, he met Coretta Scott. They were married and had four children – two daughters and two sons. King became pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Atlanta.

In 1964, after moving to the forefront of the American civil rights movement, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish equal rights for African-Americans. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The site is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum.

Establishing a holiday in honor of Dr. King was a long process, full of controversy. The holiday was first proposed just four days after King’s death by John Conyers, a Democratic congressman from Michigan. The bill failed to pass year after year. Critics claimed that anyone who opposed it would be automatically deemed a racist and that the country should not be bullied into recognizing King above many other figures who were equally deserving of the honor. Others pointed to his suspected communist ties and alleged indiscretions and demanded his FBI records to be released to the public. Proponents of the bill had the easier job – promoting his tireless, undeniable efforts toward equality. Finally Congress in 1970, Conyers convinced New York to recognize King’s birthday. It was a small but important first step toward establishing a national holiday.

After more than ten years of rejection and despite continued harsh opposition, including an effort to have the holiday changed to “National Civil Rights Day”, Congress finally passed the bill in 1983. President Ronald Regan, in his proclamation speech, defended King’s worthiness of the honor: “This year marks the first observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday. It is a time for rejoicing and reflecting. We rejoice because, in his short life, Dr. King, by his preaching, his example, and his leadership, helped to move us closer to the ideals on which America was founded. . . . He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.” Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of the battle. It was three years, in 1986, before the federal government actually began to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Some areas of the south continued to protest by holding Confederate celebrations on the same day. It wasn’t until the 90’s that MLK day was accepted and celebrated all over the country. New Hampshire was the final state to adopt it as a paid holiday in 1999.

This holiday is celebrated in Us virgin islands, Puerto Rico & United States

Source: http://www.holidayscalendar.com/event/martin-luther-king-jr-day/

Lake Wales Singer, Josh Blevins, Reaching for the stars

Josh Blevins spent several days recently singing one particular song over and over and over again. This wasn’t a case of earworm. It was part of the task of filming his first country music video.

Shot on location at Music Ranch in North Lakeland, his path to this video project is paved with “Talent Quest” competitions, “American Idol” auditions, an attempt to audition for “The Voice,” and singing in bands before striking out on his own to perform original music.

Blevins, who has opened for such big country names as Kip Moore, Tyler Farr, Charlie Worsham, Joe Nichols, The Swon Brothers, and Daryle Singletary, has been offered record deals that he’s turned down. He’s still looking for the perfect record deal. The Lake Wales resident has been working with Larry Howard, a blues artist from Lakeland, to produce an album of original music by year’s end, but took a break from the studio in June to record the video.

The video is for a song called “She Ain’t Country Enough,” written about his wife Dusty, who also co-wrote it. Blevins, 29, drives a Ford F250 that is “jacked up on 38s.” (For the uninitiated, that means big tires.)
While driving to a show one night, Dusty Blevins tried applying makeup from the passenger seat, but the rough riding truck on those big tires made the task difficult. Later, she leaned in toward her husband to snap a quick selfie. Again, the bumpy truck spoiled the moment.

Dusty Blevins uttered these words: “Gosh, I hate your truck. Blevins is
They both joked about how there was a country song in that statement. They horsed around with lyrics the rest of the way to the show. In the early-morning hours after returning home, the couple wrote the song in about 30 minutes on their front porch. Here are some of the lyrics:
She hates how rough my big truck rides
Trying to take a picture from the passenger side
Of me and her as we ride these old back roads
She says, OMG why does it ride so rough?
You need some smaller tires or a brand new truck
I just laugh and I think to myself, she ain’t country enough
Blevins said he wouldn’t have made the video if not for Phillip Stevens, owner of Music Ranch, a fan who sees the potential for Blevins to make it big in country music.

Stevens said he was hooked the first time he heard Blevins sing. It was an acoustic performance for a wedding at Music Ranch.
“His voice just touched me,” Stevens said. “I told my wife, ‘Get out here. You have to listen to this guy.‘“

Stevens didn’t plan on getting involved in Blevins’ career; he just wanted to let him open for musicians at Music Ranch in the hope that someone would hear him. But the drive to see Blevins make it big meant he couldn’t say no when Blevins asked him to be his manager. Stevens also funded the video production. Although it’s a pricey venture, Stevens said it’s a cause he believes in.

What he likes most is Blevins appears to be the whole country package. He compares him to country greats George Strait and Garth Brooks, who could take nearly any song and make it a hit, Stevens said.
“It’s that tone,” he said. “I feel like Josh has that same connection. He’s got that something, that appeal that you can’t explain.“
Another reason he supports Blevins is there is a wholesome, all-American heart in him.

“I feel like he’s bringing it back to the original country,” Stevens said. “disc jockeys have any tattoos. He’s clean. Country singers today have tattoos, earrings, and they’re singing duets with Pitbull.“
It performed on said that Blevins comes by the wholesomeness honestly. This Williamson, W.Va., native is the son of a Pentecostal preacher. He began singing in his dad’s church at age 4 and picked up the guitar at 10. Facebook to Polk County in 2004. His parents, Ralph and Laura Blevins, the in Dundee.

Blevins performed on his own as an adult, but quit playing after his daughter Austin, 8, was born. A year later, the Blevinses’ son Josh Jr. came along. Then one night at a Lake Wales bar, someone handed him a guitar and told him to sing. He sang “The Dance” by Garth Brooks. He’s been singing everywhere since then.

The disc jockeys at 97 Country have taken a liking to Blevins, and he’s performed on the radio several times. That relationship opened the door for him to open for Clint Black, a career highlight.
“He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” Blevins said.
Blevins is paying his dues, and if social media is a gauge for success, he ’s picking up steam. During the shooting of the video, which should be ready for release in the fall, his Facebook page had been “blowing up for the past three days,” he said, to the point he no longer could reply to everyone. He’s getting lots of friend requests.
“I add everybody but old girlfriends,” he said.

SOURCE: https://www.theledger.com/news/20140712/lake-wales-singer-reaching-for-the-stars

Food Stamps cut & No Tax Returns during Government Shutdown

Food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans would face severe reductions and more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February, widespread disruptions that threaten to hurt the economy.

The Trump administration, which had not anticipated a long-term shutdown, recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, several senior administration officials said. The officials said they were focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.

Thousands of federal programs are affected by the shutdown, but few intersect with the public as much as the tax system and the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the current version of food stamps.

The partial shutdown has cut off new funding to the Treasury Department and the USDA, leaving them largely unstaffed and crippling both departments’ ability to fulfill core functions.

The potential cuts to food stamps and suspension of tax refunds illustrate the compounding consequences of leaving large parts of the federal govern­ment unfunded indefinitely — a ­scenario that became more likely Friday when President Trump said he would leave the government shut down for months or even years unless Democrats gave him money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The SNAP program is rare among federal initiatives because it requires annual funding from Congress, even though its existence is automatically renewed.

Congress has not allocated funding for SNAP beyond January, and the program’s emergency reserves would not cover even two-thirds of February’s payments, according to past disbursements. Last September, the most recent month for which data is available, SNAP disbursed $4.7 billion in benefits to recipients across every U.S. state.

Lawmakers last year appropriated $3 billion into a “contingency” fund for SNAP. USDA officials would not comment on the status of the $3 billion, but if all of that money is still available, it would cover just 64 percent of February’s obligations.

Agency officials have not said how they would address the shortfall, including whether they would prioritize who receives food aid or cut benefits for everyone across the board.

If the shutdown continues through March, there would be no remaining money for benefits.

We are currently looking at options for SNAP,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department. “The best course of action would be for Congress to pass a legitimate appropriations bill to the president to end the lapse in funding.”

During the shutdown, the USDA office that administers SNAP has sent home 95 percent of its employees without pay, according to a flowchart on the department’s website.

“People in this country will go hungry,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.). “It’s simple. They go hungry. . . . These are working people. We’re not talking about people who are dogging it.”

The disruption would hurt not only the families that receive the assistance but also grocers and other retailers where the money is spent.

Treasury Department officials, meanwhile, are trying to determine what to do with the flood of requests for tax refunds that will come in next month.

The Internal Revenue Service has sent home close to 90 percent of its staff without pay ahead of an extremely busy time for the tax agency.

From late January through March 2 of 2018, the IRS paid out $147.6 billion in tax refunds to 48.5 million households. That money could be frozen within the IRS if the refunds are stalled.

Early last year, as part of its contingency planning for possible government shutdowns, the IRS said it would not issue any tax refunds during a shutdown. Treasury and IRS officials have not said they will completely suspend all tax refunds next month, but a senior administration official said such disbursements would be severely affected and likely slowed if they are paid.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday asking him to detail the impact of job cuts at the IRS and how the tax filing season will be handled during the shutdown.

“Please confirm whether the IRS will issue federal tax refunds at any time during government shutdown,” the letter said. “If so, please provide the anticipated date when the IRS will be issuing refunds.”

This could have an immediate impact on the economy, as well as on the finances of millions of Americans who frequently spend their tax refunds soon after receiving them.

“The IRS will finalize and release its filing season lapse plan in the coming days,” said a Treasury Department official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the internal planning.

Under normal schedules, tax returns for income earned in 2018 would be due April 15. People who anticipate receiving a tax refund — meaning they overpaid their taxes last year — tend to file their taxes as early as possible to recoup the funds quickly.

“It would be a huge political and economic hit for people who are expecting their $2,500 or $3,000 refund to not be able to get that money,” said Mark Mazur, a former top IRS official who served at Treasury during the Obama administration.

Trump has said he is willing to keep agencies shut down as long as necessary to force Democrats to appropriate several billion dollars for the construction of walls along the Mexico border. But some Republicans have said they are uncomfortable with this approach, and several this week sided with Democrats in their effort to reopen agencies immediately.

The scale of the consequences also reflects a deep disconnect between Trump, who has largely cheered on a prolonged shutdown, and the officials running federal agencies, who are trying to minimize the fallout.

“If we have to stay out for a very long period of time, we’re going to do that,” Trump said Friday.

White House officials have not fully briefed lawmakers on the expanding consequences of the government shutdown, leading to confusion about what happens as each week goes by.

Neal said that the IRS is considering bringing staffers back to work in the coming weeks to help deal with tax filings but that it’s unclear how the agency will proceed. These employees would have to work without pay unless Congress passed an emergency funding bill. He said delays in tax refunds would lead to “more anger, for something that can be solved.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a top House conservative who had cheered Trump’s approach in the political confrontation, said he was unaware that there would be any impact on SNAP benefits.

He said he was convinced this money was automatically appropriated by Congress: “Food stamps go on regardless,” he said.

This is not the case, however, according to several senior administration officials.

Meadows said he was “not downplaying the potential consequences of a shutdown,” but said the whole situation could be easily resolved if Democrats would appropriate several billion dollars for the border wall.

The government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump blocked a bipartisan deal to fund numerous federal agencies through Feb. 8 because he wants more than $5 billion to construct 200 miles of wall along the border.

During his campaign and earlier in his presidency, Trump said the wall would be paid for by Mexico. That has not happened.

The shutdown began with an acute impact, cutting off funding to pay 800,000 federal employees, closing national parks and museums, and limiting federal services. The workers are expected to begin feeling the consequences of the shutdown more sharply next week: They will miss their first paychecks on Jan. 11 if a resolution isn’t reached.

“A month into this, we’re going to see people start to get evicted and their cars start to be repossessed,” said David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 750,000 federal employees.

And a much broader part of the federal bureaucracy is expected to begin grinding to a halt in February, absent a resolution.

Nonprofit groups have been able to patch together money to keep certain parts of the government open for several weeks, but it’s unclear how much longer they can hold on. And none has sought to replicate the level of funding that would be lost if SNAP runs out of money or tax refunds are stalled.

“That’s scary, really scary,” said Lyman Hafen, executive director at Utah’s Zion National Park Forever Project, a nonprofit partner of one of the country’s most scenic parks. “It’s not a good situation without that support. We’re just taking it a day at a time, a week at a time.”

The cumulative impact of these changes could have a major impact on the economy.

Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RMS U.S., an accounting and consulting firm, said a prolonged shutdown would shave an entire percentage point off the U.S.’s economic growth, in part because of an “uncertainty tax” that would freeze spending by households and businesses.

“If one doesn’t know what’s going to happen with respect to their own income . . . there will be a pull back on the purchase of big-ticket items,” he said. “Large firms will pull back on outlays on software, equipment and capital.”

SOURCE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/millions-face-delayed-tax-refunds-cuts-to-food-aid-as-white-house-scrambles-to-deal-with-shutdown/2019/01/04/b5b58616-0fa3-11e9-8938-5898adc28fa2_story.html?utm_term=.bb655e222892