A Black man walked free from a Georgia prison for the first time on Monday, just in time for Christmas.
Devonia Inman, now 43, spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
“I spent 23 years behind bars for something I didn’t do,” Inman said in a statement. “It took a really long time to fix, even though it was so clear I wasn’t guilty. I’m glad I get to finally go home, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped make that possible.”
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office began reviewing the case in September 2019. The coronavirus pandemic slowed the investigation but an evidentiary hearing took place in July 2021.
In November, a judge found that two of Inman’s constitutional rights had been violated. First, prosecution did not disclose evidence to Inman, thereby violating his right to due process. Second, Inman was deprived of effective assistance of counsel.
Alapaha Judicial Circuit District Attorney Chase Studstill subsequently filed a motion to dismiss Inman’s charges. Chief Judge Clayton Tomlinson granted the motion on Monday and ordered Inman freed “as soon as possible,” and within hours the exonerated was walking out of the Augusta State Medical Prison.
Defense attorneys for Inman, convicted in 2001 in the 1998 robbery and shooting death of a Taco Bell manager in the south Georgia town of Adel, were not allowed by a judge to call a witness to testify that another man committed the crime.
The witness would have brought evidence showing the other man, Hercules Brown — who worked at the Taco Bell — committed and admitted to the manager’s murder.
Inman had an alibi placing him away from the scene of the crime, and no physical evidence linked him to the manager’s death. But he was convicted of armed robbery and malice murder and sentences to life in prison without parole.
Inman learned later that prosecutors withheld other evidence that implicated Brown. Brown went on to kill two other people in an armed robbery of an Adel grocery store months after the Taco Bell robbery and pleaded guilty to those charges. He is serving a prison sentence of life without parole.
Prosecutors claimed during Inman’s trial a ski mask found in the victim’s stolen car was worn by Inman when he committed the crime. But DNA testing in 2011 showed that only Brown’s DNA was on the ski mask. He has not been charged with Donna Brown’s slaying. Inman’s attorneys then submitted this evidence to the court in hoped of obtaining him a new trial, ut the judge who presided over the initial trial denied a motion for a request, siding with prosecutors and saying there was not enough evidence.
In 2014 the Georgia Supreme Court refused to hear Inman’s appeal of the trial judge’s decision. By 2018, in the face of a new appeal that Inman should be released on the grounds that he is innocent, the state Supreme Court reversed itself and ordered the lower courts to take up Inman’s case again.
The Georgia Innocence Project says Inman remained in prison after evidence showed he didn’t commit the crime because the legal system resisted his innocence.
“The prosecutor opposed a new trial for Devonia and the same trial judge sided with the prosecutor. When Devonia tried to appeal that decision, the Georgia Supreme Court wouldn’t let Devonia appeal,” the group said.
“When the Georgia Supreme Court changed their mind and directly urged the Attorney General to ‘Let Justice be Done’ in Devonia’s case, the AG declined and his office continued to fight the case for two more years.”
A fund to help Inman rebuild his life has raised more than $13,000.