In what’s starting to become a rather bittersweet trend, a Georgia man that was convicted 23 years ago to life without the possibility of parole has just been exonerated after a court finally decided to look at withheld evidence that backed up his innocence in the 1998 murder of a Taco Bell employee.
As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 43-year-old Devonia Inman was finally able to call himself a free man yesterday after spending two-and-a-half decades at Augusta State Medical Prison for a crime he always claimed to be innocent of.
Here’s a breakdown of the details that led to his false imprisonment, via AJC:
“Inman, who has always professed his innocence, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1998 murder of Donna Brown, a Taco Bell night manager in Adel. She was killed in the restaurant’s parking lot and robbed of about $1,700 of the day’s receipts.
But last month a North Georgia judge hearing Inman’s appeal threw out his conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge found that evidence withheld by prosecutors strongly supported Inman’s claims of innocence.
Last week, the state Attorney General’s Office declined to appeal that order. And on Monday, Cook County Superior Court Chief Judge Clayton Tomlinson signed an order dismissing the case and ordering Inman released from custody ‘as soon as possible.’ That happened hours later.”
At the time of his conviction, there was no physical evidence that tied Inman to the crime and three out of the four key witnesses recanted their stories at trial. The judge refused another witness that claimed a man named Hercules Brown admitted to the crime, and 10 years later a mask was found inside the clerk’s office with Hercules’ DNA in it. Even with the new evidence, not only did the judge deny an appeal but the Georgia Supreme Court declined to even hear it.
A second request finally led to the state Supreme Court allowing Inman’s lawyers from Troutman Pepper to file an appeal on grounds that he’s actually innocent. The court’s chief justice, David Nahmias, said he regretted the court’s dismissal of the initial appeal in 2014, calling it “the most concern that an innocent person remains convicted and sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison” out of the more than 1,500 murder cases he’s reviewed as a justice.
While we hope for the freedom of many other innocent Black men and women in the near future, we also pry that wrongful convictions don’t continue to happen in the first place.
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