A man who spent 23 years in a Georgia prison for a murder he did not commit was freed on Monday, over a decade after DNA tied a convicted killer to the crime.
Devonia Inman, 43, was greeted by his mother and stepfather, Dinah and David Ray, as he left Augusta State Medical Prison.
‘I’m happy,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time.’
Inman was 20 when he was arrested for the 1998 killing of Donna Brown, a night manager at Taco Bell in Adel, Georgia.
Brown, a 40-year-old mother to a seven-year-old son, was leaving for the night with a bag containing $1,732 in cash.
A gunman shot her in the face, stole her car and drove off with the bag of money.
Devonia Inman is seen embracing his mother Dinah Ray and stepfather David Ray on Monday, after he was released from Augusta State Medical Prison
Inman is embraced by his mother as he walks out of prison on Monday a free man
Inman, who had moved from California only a few months before to live with relatives, having fallen in with a bad crowd on the West Coast, was arrested shortly after based on the accounts of four witnesses.
One, Marquetta Thomas, was his girlfriend’s sister; another was a jailhouse snitch; and a third was a Taco Bell employee.
Inman is seen in his booking photo, aged 20
All three later admitted they lied: the Taco Bell employee to satisfy persistent detectives, and the snitch to reduce his own sentence.
‘Basically, I made it up, just to get him out of the picture,’ said Thomas, who was the first to implicate Inman.
He was in a volatile romantic relationship with her younger sister, WSB reported.
‘I was like, ‘I’m going to get this guy,” Thomas admitted.
At trial, the judge refused to allow Inman’s lawyers to bring in witnesses who said that another man, Hercules Brown, who worked at the Taco Bell – no relation to Donna Brown – had admitted to the killing.
Inman always insisted he was innocent, but in 2001 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole.
Donna Brown, 40, was shot and killed in 1998 as she left the Taco Bell where she worked carrying $1,700 in takings
A decade later, the Georgia Innocence Project took up his case, after DNA evidence revealed that a ski mask worn during the robbery had Hercules Brown’s DNA on it.
A similar homemade ski mask was found in Hercules Brown’s car after another attempted armed robbery.
By this point, Hercules Brown was already in prison, having been convicted of the murder of two more people in an Adel convenience store two years after Donna Brown was killed.
In 2014 they petitioned for a new trial, but the case was rejected, without explanation.
In 2017, the case became the subject of a podcast created by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Inman’s lawyers from Troutman Pepper filed yet another appeal, in 2018, asking that Inman’s conviction be overturned on grounds he is actually innocent.
Inman is seen as he is driven away from the prison, with his three-year-old granddaughter Alona Jackson looking on
Inman hugs his tearful mother on Monday, after he was finally freed from prison
The state Attorney General’s Office tried to get the latest appeal dismissed, but the state Supreme Court allowed it to proceed – with David Nahmias, the presiding justice on the Supreme Court, saying that of the more than 1,500 murder cases he had reviewed, this was among the most troubling.
‘Of the multitude of cases in which a new trial has been denied, Inman’s case is the one that causes me the most concern that an innocent person remains convicted and sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison,’ Nahmias wrote.
In November this year, a North Georgia judge found that prosecutors withheld critical evidence at Inman’s trial and orders a new trial.
On Monday, hours after Cook County prosecutors dismissed the murder charges against Inman, he walked out of prison a free man.
‘I can breathe now,’ his mother said.
‘For 23 years, I’ve felt like my life was on hold.’