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Black man exonerated of Taco Bell murder after 23 years in prison: 'I get to finally go home'

Black man comes back home after wrongly serving 23 years in prison for murder he didn't commit.

Black man exonerated of Taco Bell murder after 23 years in prison: 'I get to finally go home'
Image source: Twitter/GaInnocence

A Georgia man was released this week after spending 23 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Devonia Inman had been sentenced to life without parole after a restaurant manager was fatally shot in the face in 1998. Questions of systemic racism in the U.S. justice system are being raised in the wake of Inman being released almost 10 years after DNA evidence presented in court pointed to another man as the rightful suspect. It also emerged that the judge who sentenced Inman learned of the perpetrator's confession but withheld the evidence and refused to inform the jurors of the same. "It took a really long time to fix, even though it was so clear I wasn't guilty," said Devonia Inman after walking out of the Augusta State Medical Prison on Monday, reported People. "I'm glad I get to finally go home, and I'm grateful to everyone who helped make that possible."



On the night in question, a Taco Bell night manager, Donna Brown, was shot and killed in the parking lot. The assailant stole $1,700 in that day's cash receipts and fled in the victim's car. When the car was later found, authorities discovered a distinctive homemade ski mask left inside. There was no evidence to tie Devonia Inman to the crime and it relied on testimony from four key witnesses. Three of them later recanted, according to Atlanta Journal Constitution. After another man, Hercules Brown—no relation to the victim—allegedly confessed to the murder, Inman's legal team wanted to have him testify in the case, but the judge refused to let the jurors hear it. 



The prosecutor argued that there was "one scintilla of evidence" connecting Brown to the robbery and killing. The authorities had also discovered a homemade ski mask, similar to the one found in Donna Brown's car, in a car used by Hercules Brown as he planned to carry out a robbery. The judge refused to let the jurors be presented with that piece of evidence. While Inman was in jail, Brown carried out an armed robbery leaving two people dead. Brown pleaded guilty to those murders and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.


The Georgia Innocence Project, or GIP, which worked to prove Inman's innocence, secured post-trial DNA testing on the mask "that showed Hercules Brown's DNA—and only his DNA—was on that mask," according to the organization. It took almost 10 years for a new trial to be held for Inman after a judge had tossed out his conviction on the basis of the DNA evidence. Inman was released after the Georgia Attorney General's Office declined to appeal that ruling.



Actress and producer Hilarie Burton Morgan did a documentary on Inman's case for her 'True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here' series on SundanceTV and AMC+. "As a mother, Devonia's case haunted me," said Morgan. "The dedication of his parents, Dinah and Dave Ray, was humbling to witness. The optimism of Devonia's son—now a father himself—was so honorable and heartbreaking." 



Jess Cino, an attorney who was a law professor at Georgia State University, drew considerable attention to Inman's case. "We've had the DNA results for 10 years, but courts kept slamming the door," said Cino. "The hard part for the legal team ended on Monday. For Devonia, the hard part began Monday. Devonia lost 23 years of his life and he is going to have to start completely over, get to know his family, grieve those he lost while incarcerated, and adjust to a brand new life. He went to prison in 1998. Life in 2021 is very different."



GIP has set up a donation campaign and raised more than $12,000 to help get Inman back on his feet. "After Devonia Inman had already lost 21 years to wrongful imprisonment, Georgia's Attorney General added insult to injury by continuing to defend the conviction for two more years at taxpayer expense—despite significant evidence supporting Devonia's innocence and direct urging by leading justices of Georgia's Supreme Court to 'Let Justice be Done,'" said GIP Executive Director Clare Gilbert in a statement.

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