In a year of high-profile exonerations of Black men, another one has occurred.
Devonia Inman, who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the 1998 murder of a Taco Bell night manager in Adel, Georgia, has been freed after spending the last 23 years of his life in prison, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Inman was convicted of murdering Donna Bell in the Taco Bell parking lot and robbing the restaurant of $1,700, although he always stated that he was innocent.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Inman, 43, immediately embraced his mother and stepfather, Dinah and David Ray, after emerging from Augusta State Medical Prison. A few minutes later, surrounded by relatives, friends and members of his legal team, Inman was almost at a loss for words.
“I’m happy,” he said in a hushed voice. “It’s been a long time.”
His mother said she never thought the day would come. “I can breathe now,” Dinah Ray said. “For 23 years, I’ve felt like my life was on hold.”
A month ago, Chattooga County Chief Judge Kristina Cook heard the appeal of Inman and ordered a new trial because it was found that evidence that was withheld by the prosecution that backed Inman’s innocence, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
I’ll pretend to be shocked.
The office of the Attorney General did not appeal that order and eventually, the Cook County Superior Court Chief Judge signed an order throwing the case out and ordered that Inman be released ASAP, and he was.
In the murder case, there was no physical evidence that tied Inman to the murder and three out of the four of the witnesses who helped with the conviction backtracked on what they said during the trial, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
At trial, the judge refused to let Inman’s lawyers present testimony of witnesses who would have said that another man, Hercules Brown, told them he had committed the murder. (Hercules Brown, who had worked at the Taco Bell, was not related to Donna Brown.)
A decade after Inman’s conviction, the Georgia Innocence Project found inside the clerk’s office the makeshift mask that prosecutors said was worn by Brown’s killer. The GBI crime lab tested the mask for DNA and found a match: Hercules Brown.
Inman’s lawyers then filed a motion for a new trial but, even with the new DNA evidence, a judge denied it. Inman’s lawyers appealed that decision but the Georgia Supreme Court declined to even hear it, allowing the murder conviction to stand.
Undeterred, Inman’s lawyers from Troutman Pepper filed yet another appeal, asking that Inman’s conviction be overturned on grounds he is actually innocent. The state Attorney General’s Office tried to get the latest appeal dismissed, but the state Supreme Court allowed it to proceed.
The judge who denied Inman’s appeal for a new trial in 2014, David Nahmias, says he regrets that decision, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Thankfully, Chattooga County Judge Cook did find that the prosecution refused to share evidence that would’ve helped Inman’s case. The information that was held back was about Hercules Brown, who turned out to be the actual suspect.
Again, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Inside Brown’s car, police found a homemade mask similar to the one prosecutors said Inman wore while killing Donna Brown.
If information about the mask had been disclosed to Inman’s lawyers, it “would have been independent, reliable and admissible evidence tending to connect Hercules Brown to the murder, corroborating the defense’s theory of mistaken identity,” Graham wrote.
Brown and another man would kill two people during an armed robbery of Bennett’s Grocery in Adel months after Donna Brown’s killing. Hercules Brown later pleaded guilty to those murders and is serving a sentence of life without parole. He was never charged in the Taco Bell slaying of Donna Brown.
Makes you wonder why the prosecution did not want to share that information about Brown? Did they want the conviction that bad? In any case, they didn’t get it.