Devonia Inman goes on trial for his life. But there’s really no evidence against him. Witnesses keep changing their stories. And the jury never hears about an alternate suspect — a man who was just arrested for a brazen murder of two prominent community members.
Liliana Segura: On the website of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation — the GBI — is a gruesome tab. Unsolved homicides. It’s five pages long, fifty names total. Lives cut off and reduced to a paragraph or two. More police blotter than tabloid.
Jordan Smith: Laneisha Crowder, a 21-year-old single mom, murdered at home 18 years ago. Mary Susan Humphrey, air traffic controller. She died after leaving a nightclub in Valdosta back in 1980. And then there’s a man known only as Roy. He died sometime between 1975 and 1979, maybe in Georgia. Or maybe in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi or Texas. There’s a number to call if you have more information.
Liliana Segura: Some of the entries include pictures of the victims. Old school photos, outdated haircuts. Lots of blurry snapshots, family and friends cropped out to frame the victim.
Jordan Smith: On about half of them, there’s no picture at all. Just a little white box with a gray N/A where the face should be. One of those belongs to a man named Shailesh Patel, murdered Friday, April 7, 2000, in Adel, Georgia, at a house just blocks from the small convenience store where he was working. Tim Balch is a former police officer from Adel and he remembers when Patel was killed, because it was the second gruesome murder in less than two years in this town of just 5,000 people.
Tim Balch: That store is literally like a block, and in fact, you can see the front end of it from here, where those gas pumps are down there is where that happened, yeah. He was found dead three streets behind us on Gordon Street.
Liliana Segura: What do remember about that case? What can you tell us about that?
Tim Balch: That was probably one of the most savage murders. The fight was throughout the house and I think that the coup d’etat, as you could say, the final deal was when the television went over his head. I mean, there was fighting and stabbing, and it was a very bloody crime scene.
Jordan Smith: I mean, it seems amazing to me that that didn’t get solved. It seems like there’d be a lot of good potential evidence there, it’s so violent. I just wonder if you just have ever thought about what actually might have occurred and why.
Tim Balch: It was just a very strange place for a murder to take place anyway, because it wasn’t one of those areas that you would even expect family fighting to take place. It was a pretty good area. We rarely got calls over there.
Liliana Segura: We’ve talked about how wrongful convictions leave the real killer free. Well, Shailesh Patel was murdered barely a year and a half after Donna Brown and we’re sure the GBI pegged the wrong man, Devonia Inman, for that crime. We can’t say that there is a connection between the murder of Donna Brown and the murder of Shailesh Patel. We can say that there was talk around town that there might have been. But we don’t know if the Adel police or the GBI ever considered that. What we do know is that Patel’s death was grisly. Left his family devastated and the town shocked. Again. And that nearly 20 years later, his killer has never been identified. From The Intercept, I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: And I’m Jordan Smith. This is Murderville, Georgia. Shailesh Patel was murdered in April 2000. After Devonia Inman was jailed for Donna Brown’s murder, but well before he would go to trial. That’s a lot of time. And if the wrong man’s in jail, it’s a lot of time for the right man, the real killer, to plot his next crime. So could Patel’s killer be the real culprit behind Donna Brown’s murder? And if so, then why wasn’t that person caught? And why was Devonia Inman pegged for the crime? We’re going to try to figure that out. But first we need to understand what happened with the Donna Brown case and Devonia Inman’s conviction. And how Devonia went from a kid getting in trouble in California to an adult facing murder charges in South Georgia.
Liliana Segura: Hi.
Dinah Ray: Hi!
Liliana Segura: Dinah-
Dinah Ray: How are you?
Liliana Segura: I’m good. How are you?
Dinah Ray: I’m good. Nice to meet-
Liliana Segura: Sorry to show up with all this equipment. Nice to meet you too.
Dinah Ray: Come on in.
Liliana Segura: Sorry, my hands are full.
Liliana Segura: This is the house in California where Devonia Inman lived when he was a teenager. White, single story home, green trim. It’s in a suburb in South Sacramento, not far from the freeway. He moved there with his parents, Dinah and David Ray, when he was about 15 or 16, from a house just a few miles away. The family wanted to settle down in a better neighborhood. Outside there’s a basketball hoop over the two-car garage, inside a stone fireplace with family photos on the mantle. Dinah had collected all the photos she could find of her son over the years. Inman as a toddler, reading with his sister. Inman as a teenager, with an earring and a sideways cap. He has a dimple when he smiles. Dinah also had letters and a poem he had sent from prison earlier that year. His parents were really proud of it. He wrote it for a poetry contest and won, they said. It was called The History of Being Black. Here’s David reading from the poem.
David Ray: …a dream, then I would foresee a race of color that needs to perfect itself. For in the days lost to gangs, greed, and selfishness…
Jordan Smith: Inman grew up here in California. But his family’s roots were in Adel.
Dinah Ray: I was born and raised in Adel and my family lives in Adel. All of my family. My parents, my dad’s dad. He dead now, but at that time, my parents, all my siblings are back in Adel. I enjoyed growing up in Adel. It was the country, you know, quiet, slow. I thought Adel was a great place to grow up in as a child.
Jordan Smith: Devonia Inman was born there, too, in the same house where Dinah grew up. He was born on the couch. And he was still a baby when they moved to California.
Dinah Ray: Actually left Adel when he was about 2, 3 months old. I was married to his dad and he was military, so we went to Oklahoma and then wound up here in Sacramento where his dad and I divorced.
Jordan Smith: Dinah and David Ray have been married for three decades now. David raised Inman since he was a toddler, like he was his own son. Inman doesn’t call David his stepfather. He’s his dad – period. Inman was the oldest of four kids.
Dinah Ray: He was a good son. He’s a caring and loving person. He loved people. He liked to dress up as a kid. His dad was in the military, so he liked to dress up in military clothing and wear them around the house. He liked tearing things apart and putting them back together.
Liliana Segura: What kinds of things did he like to take apart and put back together? What was his, sort of-
Dinah Ray: He would take his toys apart. A stereo or that scooter. He loved to see how something worked, I guess.
Jordan Smith: But things started to change in high school when he started running with the wrong crowd.
Dinah Ray: The trouble here- My son, I think the only thing here that he was guilty of was really choosing wrong friends. Certainly, he can’t control what his friends do, which is one of the reasons I sent him back to my family in the country, so that he could, you know, maybe not get in trouble.
Liliana: How old was he when you were starting to be a little concerned like that?
Dinah Ray: He was a teenager. He was about 14, 15.
David Ray: About 15 or 16.
Jordan Smith: We’ve said it before and we’re gonna say it again. Just because somebody is wrongfully convicted doesn’t mean they’re an angel. Sometimes they’re even a bit of a dick. But that doesn’t mean they should spend the rest of their life in prison, especially for something they didn’t do.
Liliana Segura: Devonia Inman certainly has some good qualities. His parents clearly love him and he loves his son. And that thing where he used to like to take things apart and put them back together – maybe he could have done something with that. He had just turned 20 when he was arrested for Donna Brown’s murder. That said: He definitely has a dark side. Inman’s police records from Sacramento are hard to piece together. The GBI requested them just weeks after he was arrested in Adel for Donna Brown’s murder. Pages are scattered throughout the GBI report, which is almost 1,000 pages long. What’s clear is that he started to get in trouble early. There are disciplinary reports from two separate high schools. Then, a couple of arrests – armed robbery, attempted robbery, and car theft. But the main thing: he seems to have had a real problem with violence against women. That started early, too. Apparently, part of a cycle. His biological dad had been abusive toward his mom.
Jordan Smith: He was only 16 the first time he got in trouble for it. There was a girl he’d been dating for just two weeks who accused him of choking her and threatening to kill her. Then, a few years later, he was living with another girl. Her family filed a bunch of complaints against him. Saying he beat her up all the time and that he had been threatening the whole family. Police arrested Inman a couple times. He spent several months in jail and a few years on probation. In the summer of 1998, on the eve of his 20th birthday, he seemed bound for more trouble. So his mother decided to do what mothers have done for decades when their kids need shaping up. She sent him to stay with Grandma, far away. It was one of those times when you do what you think is the right thing and it turns out to be the wrong thing. Very wrong.
Liliana Segura: Inman was no stranger to Adel. He and his siblings had been going there from the time he was little. Dinah would take them during holidays and school vacations. They would stay for two weeks. During one of those visits, in 1995, he got a girl pregnant. She was known around town as Pebbles. Later, when Inman was back in Adel for Christmas, he went to see Pebbles. She was still pregnant and in the hospital. But she didn’t want him there. He got angry. Inman was charged with making a “terroristic threat” after insisting to see her. He was put on probation, but he quickly broke it by returning to California. That probation violation would come back to haunt him. The DA who charged him in that case — his name was Bob Ellis. He’s the same DA who would later charge Inman with murder. By the summer of 1998, Inman was 19 and his parents didn’t know what to do. They brought him to a family reunion in Mobile, Alabama and instead of bringing him back to Sacramento with them, Dinah and David put him in a car with his aunt and uncle and sent him to Adel.
Dinah Ray: I just didn’t want him to get into anything serious or in behind peer pressure. I thought I was protecting him by sending him to Adel in the country. That wasn’t the case.
Liliana Segura: Maybe you can tell me a little bit more about when you decided to send him to Adel and how he reacted.
Dinah Ray: He didn’t really want to. All of my kids are really very close and I’m really close to my kids, maybe because I’m so far away from my family. He didn’t really want to stay there, but I thought if he could stay a school year or something, then I would come back to get him after school year, or to see if he liked it. Maybe he could finish school-
David Ray: It was a very hard decision, I mean-
Dinah Ray: It was.
David Ray: He didn’t want to stay and my wife didn’t want him to leave him, and she cried the whole ride back.
Dinah Ray: I didn’t want to leave him.
David Ray: We thought we was having him in a better environment.
Dinah Ray: And that was the worst mistake.
Liliana Segura: Do you regret having sent him to Adel?
Dinah Ray: Every day. Every day of my life. It was the worst thing I could have ever done. It destroyed our lives. It destroyed his life. And I had to blame myself for that.
Liliana Segura: Inman arrived in Adel in late July, 1998. He was angry.
Devonia Inman: I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to stay with my grandma at the time, I didn’t want to stay with my aunt. I just wanted to leave that town. There wasn’t nothing there except just a whole bunch of chaos and trouble.
Liliana Segura: The hope his parents had that he might finish school — that wasn’t happening. Instead, he was getting into fights, making threats, and getting in trouble with police. In September, just a few days before the murder at Taco Bell, Inman was accused of pointing a gun at Zach Payne. That’s the same weird, rambling, drug-dealing Zach Payne who knew nothing about the death of Donna Brown, but told police anyway that Inman was capable of killing her. Two days after the murder, police arrested Inman for violating the terms of his probation from that fight at the hospital back in 1995. It was the perfect excuse to keep him locked up while they collected more evidence against him. They’d leave him in jail until they were ready to charge him with murder.
Jordan Smith: We’ve talked about Adel before. Here’s the Adel music again. The short version: small town in southern Georgia, sharply divided by race, with a long racist history. And like in so many places, that racist history finds a home in policing. Good stats are hard to come by, but there are plenty of anecdotes. Like the time in 1982 when Adel made national news. Two white cops fired their guns into a moving car with four black kids inside. They said the kids were speeding. After the officers shot at them, their car flipped over. The NAACP called for the cops to be fired. And if you ask folks like Devonia Inman’s aunt and uncle, they’ll tell you they don’t need statistics to prove that the town is racist. They’ve lived here their whole lives and they see it every day.
We went to meet the aunt and uncle, Ethel and Ben Pickett, at a buffet restaurant in Adel, the Western Sizzlin. It’s right next door to the Taco Bell where Donna Brown was murdered. It’s a popular spot. During Inman’s trial jurors ate lunch there.
Liliana Segura: Ethel told us that Adel’s always been a tough place to be a young black man.
Ethel Pickett: When a black child graduated from high school, they went to the army. They got out of Adel. They went to Atlanta, they went to Detroit, somewhere. They got out of Cook County, because if they hadn’t have got out of Cook County, they was going to jail. They was going to prison.
When you’re out there on the streets, whether you doing something or whether you’re not, you was going to jail. And if you resisted, you got the consequences. It was a privilege for a black man to graduate back in the day and get out of Adel. Parents, when their child got of age, that was their main thing, to get them gone.
Liliana Segura: She says the racism is a little more subtle today. But she’s still convinced that racism was behind her nephew’s arrest and conviction. It’s hard to prove that. And at least at the beginning, it was Inman’s behavior that got him onto the radar of the Adel PD. Part of that was due to his relationship with Christy Lima, the girlfriend he was with at the time Donna Brown was killed. He met her soon after moving to Adel. The cops had been called to her house after he and Lima got into a couple of fights. Now she says she was the abusive one, that Inman just played tough.
Christy Lima: He used to wear the bandanas, you know, because he was from California. Like, you know, gangster thugs, but Devonia is a sweetheart. You know, he wasn’t a fighter, it never was nothing, him being like- He was just crazy about me. We were young. We would fight. And more me, I’ve always been like the type of abusive person. Devonia probably hit me once. Hit me back for hitting him.
Liliana Segura: In the months before Donna Brown’s murder, Inman wasn’t really doing much. He didn’t have a job and he wasn’t going to school. He was mostly hanging out with Lima, or with his grandmother, or his aunt Ethel, or one of his many cousins. He smoked pot and drank beer. And he visited his son, who was just a toddler. The last time he saw him was the day Donna Brown was murdered.
Jordan Smith: While Inman was in jail waiting for his trial to start, he got moved around to different facilities. It’s not clear why — and neither the GBI nor the Adel PD would tell us — but his family thinks it was to keep them from seeing him. Meanwhile, the prosecutor kept plugging away, even as the case seemed to be falling apart. The murder weapon never materialized. Inman’s prints did not match those lifted from Donna Brown’s car. Witnesses were starting to recant their statements and another two were sticking to totally fishy stories about Inman’s involvement.
Liliana Segura: The fishiest? The story told by a woman named Virginia Tatem. She’s the newspaper carrier who claimed to hear a gunshot over six lanes of interstate traffic and then said she saw Inman speeding away from the Taco Bell. But remember — she didn’t come forward until weeks later, after a $5,000 reward for information about the crime had been posted. She eventually collected that cash.
Lee Grimes: We were waiting for the papers, they were late sometimes, and we were standing kind of to the side of the place where we picked up the papers.
Liliana Segura: Lee Grimes was another newspaper carrier. He was with Tatem waiting for the papers to be delivered the night that Donna Brown died. He says nothing unusual happened that night.
Lee Grimes: A dark car with some black people rode by and we were talking about the crime that had occurred that month, and she was telling me, “You know there’s a $5,000 reward for that. It sure would be nice to get that reward, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc, etc.” This car rode by, “You know those people right there, they could have committed that crime or they might have committed that crime,” and they rode on down the street. And that’s my memory of that- of the quote “the crime.” It was a month or so after the crime and there was a reward which she was, Virginia was always into whatever she could do to make some extra money and that kind of thing. That’s basically the story. Also at the time that corner was pretty dark. There wouldn’t be no way I or anybody else could pick out a black person in a dark car, could pick out the description she picked out of- that she said she saw. I mean, it’s just impossible.
Liliana Segura: Grimes says he confronted Tatem about it years later, when he saw her in a bank. He asked how she was sleeping at night. She wouldn’t answer him. We wanted to talk to Tatem, so we went to her house.
Liliana Segura: …which I understand you played a pretty central role in. I’m sorry to show up, we called you a couple times. I understand you were pretty key to cracking that case open, and-
Liliana Segura: She was not interested, she told us through a crack in the door. She told us not to come back. Inman’s aunt and uncle think the police and GBI knew he didn’t do it, but decided to pin the murder on him because he was an easy target, because he was black, and the cops thought he was a pain in the ass.
Ethel Pickett: He had smarted off at a couple of police officers. They had assaulted him and he had smarted off at them and then when he headed out with the girl and went up there, he was getting smart with them. He was telling Jimmy-
Liliana Segura: Jimmy Hill, the investigator from the Adel Police Department.
Ethel Pickett: He called him all kinds of names and stuff. And he was saying he knew his rights, they couldn’t do this, they couldn’t do that to him. And it made them mad. Jim Hill was like, “I heard him say that he was coming here using three or four different aliases thinking he all bad, and this, and that. “He ain’t getting out of here. He won’t never see the daylight of dawn around here, in this jail.”
Jordan Smith: So, wait, so-
Ethel Pickett: That was the words that the detective Jimmy Hill said.
Jordan Smith: So, Jimmy Hill, basically didn’t like that Devonia was smarting off to him and said he would never get out of jail.
Ethel Pickett: Right.
Jordan Smith: And, then he didn’t.
Ethel Pickett: No, he didn’t. They just focused on him because, basically, they was going to get somebody black for killing that lady. And I knew that. The whole town knew this. I said, well everybody better know where they was and have a witness or alibi for what happened, because they’re going to pin that murder on somebody black.
Jordan Smith: Again, that’s hard to prove. What should’ve been easier to see was that police had the wrong guy. But it seemed no one wanted to want to see that. Instead, prosecutors aggressively ignored all the red flags that were turning up before the trial. One of the craziest ones: just months before Inman’s trial began, LarRisha Chapman sent a letter to Inman’s attorneys. She’s one of the teens working with Donna Brown the night she was killed — the one who first told investigators she saw nothing weird at the Taco Bell that night, but then implicated Inman, saying she’d heard his voice coming from the weeds by the parking lot. Now, in her letter, she confessed that the GBI had pressured her to say that and that they fed her details of the crime. She was just 16 at the time. No adults were present when she was questioned. Inman’s lawyers gave prosecutors the letter. But the prosecutors kept moving towards trial anyway. The trial began in Adel in June 2001, more than two-and-a-half years after Donna Brown was killed. It’s hard to find impartial jurors in a community as small as Adel, especially when the crime was as awful as this one was. The county called hundreds of potential jurors and eventually whittled it down to 15.
Jessica Cino: Nice to meet you.
Steven King: Steven. Nice to meet you.
Jordan Smith: I’m Jordan. Nice to meet you.
Steven King: Good to meet you.
Jessica Cino: This is Jordan, this is Liliana.
Steven King: Liliana. Jessie, Jordan, Liliana.
Jordan Smith: We met one of them, Steven King, at his house near Adel. King was appealing because at the time of the murder, he had been away from town for six years, serving in the Army. Today he’s a mail carrier. The jury was sequestered. Also unusual for Cook County.
Steven King: They would take us back and forth from the motel to the courthouse to lunch, back to the motel to supper in a little yellow school bus. They did let us swim, but they would ask the other guests “can the jury have the pool for an hour or so?” and we went in the evenings. Yeah, it was a- it was an experience.
Jordan Smith: The trial was a big deal. The first capital case in a generation. Inman’s parents, Dinah and David Ray, were there from California. But they say they weren’t allowed into the courtroom for most of the trial. They were told they might have to testify. And in the end, they did, after their son was convicted. They had to beg jurors to spare his life. Family of the victim — Donna Brown — was there too. So were other curious people from around town. A reporter for the local paper took notes.
Liliana Segura: There are no recordings of the trial, only the transcripts. But when we first read through them, it became pretty clear that, like the investigation into the crime, the trial was a total shitshow. The evidence was thin, so prosecutors did everything they could to make Inman seem scary and menacing.
More than a dozen local cops were sworn in as bailiffs to act as court security. A normal case might have three. It seemed like a brazen attempt to make the jury believe that Inman was a very dangerous man before even a single witness had testified. Another thing: they kept calling Inman by like four different aliases, which certainly made him seem sketchy, but they weren’t names he actually used. Then there was the bizarre, and frankly racist, courtroom drama. Halfway through the trial, one juror — a black man — was removed after he admitted he’d had sex with one of the witnesses, a black woman. A second juror, a white man, also had sex with a witness, at least according to her. That juror denied it, so the judge let him stay. Tim Eidson, one of the prosecutors, gave the opening statement. Eidson wears glasses, he has a receding hairline and an easy smile. He has a lyrical southern accent and a resonating voice. “There really was no physical evidence,” he acknowledged to the jury. But the reason for that, he said, was that Inman had plotted out the crime so well.
Jordan Smith: Eidson later ran into trouble with the law himself. There was an indictment on federal corruption charges for a drug case involving his wife. He later became a public defender and then was sued by a civil rights group that said he provided inadequate defense to indigent clients. And then there was elected district attorney Bob Ellis. He ran into legal trouble, too. And he was also indicted in a federal case for sexual misconduct with a confidential drug informant. She accused him of rape, but he denied it. He later became a boat salesman and part-time Baptist preacher. The prosecutors brought in a parade of witnesses from California to talk about Inman’s criminal past, including crimes he committed as a juvenile. Not the domestic violence, but the other stuff. Prosecutors said these petty crimes — which they called “similar transactions” — showed that Inman was a bad egg, indications that he would ultimately become a murderer. Earline Goodman, who worked on the defense team, told us that was one of Tim Eidson’s signature moves.
Earline Goodman: Tim was the king of kings of similar transactions.
I never understood how that little penny ante stuff in California was a similar transaction to this, but like I said, Tim was king of similar transactions. I don’t know how in the world, but he was.
Jordan Smith: For what it’s worth, Eidson’s “similar transactions” didn’t exactly impress juror Steven King.
Steven King: I don’t know why they brought all the guys in from California. To me that was a total waste. They were just trying to have a base of his criminal history or something?
Liliana Segura: And in 2011, Georgia finally changed its rules of evidence. So, if the trial were to take place today, a lot of that California stuff wouldn’t be admissible anymore. Not that the rules mattered a whole lot. The judge let all sorts of stuff in. “It seemed like everybody forgot they went to law school, including me,” he joked at one point, after allowing improper questioning of a witness to go unchecked.
The witnesses were as bad on the stand as they had been in the investigation. People like Zach Payne. He was brought from drug rehab to testify. He was brief and nonsensical, contradicting himself on the stand and talking about Jesus. Then there was LarRisha Chapman. Despite the letter she wrote months earlier, prosecutors still called her to testify, apparently to humiliate her and paint her as a liar. When she swore she saw nothing that night, Eidson was ruthless. He insisted that her statement about seeing Inman in the weeds was the true story and that it was Chapman’s fault that Donna Brown was dead. “Well, Ms. Chapman,” he began. “I think the fact of the matter is, if you had told somebody that night, Ms. Brown might still be alive.” Chapman was devastated when Inman was convicted, at least according to Dinah Ray, Inman’s mother. She says after the trial, Chapman came up to her in tears and said she was sorry. Chapman wasn’t the only one to recant on the stand. Marquetta Thomas, who had recently done a stint in jail, also said she had lied. But prosecutors brought a procession of jailhouse informants to describe how she told them Inman had killed Donna Brown. Finally, the story told by Virginia Tatem, the newspaper carrier, got even more preposterous. Now she insisted that she was so close to Donna Brown’s car as it sped past that she could have reached out and touched it. And she could see the gold chain around Inman’s neck.
Jordan Smith: Inman’s lawyers tried to show the jury that Inman was not a killer. It didn’t go very well. They called Lee Grimes, the newspaper carrier who was with Tatem that night. He was a really important witness, but he wasn’t particularly forceful. He just said he didn’t see any of the things that Tatem claimed to have seen. District Attorney Bob Ellis defended Tatem’s version of the events.. He told the jury that she remembered the details because she was a woman. Women are more “nosey” than men, he said, and they notice things like the jewelry a person is wearing. “You know that book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus?” he asked the jury. “Men perceive things differently than women do.” Throughout all this, King, the juror, took a lot of notes. He showed them to us when we went to visit.
Steven King: Very interesting but I’ve got… and the actual vote, for where we, where we voted, this was the vote count and apparently we took two votes if- my notes are what they are. They may not be complete, they may, you know-
Jordan Smith: Maybe you could read those notes that you have and the times and what the counts were.
Steven King: Okay, on the voting for guilt or innocence we had, it was- apparently it was nine for guilty, zero for not-guilty and three were undecided on the first vote.
Jordan Smith: Zero for not-guilty. King said he was skeptical of a lot of the witnesses, including Virginia Tatem, who he did not believe at all.
Steven King: Looking back at my notes, I believe she had said something about she could see the cars from where she was and anybody that’s from Adel knows you can’t see the Pizza Hut because the Dairy Queen is right there.
Jordan Smith: But remember the jailhouse snitch who claimed that Devonia Inman had confessed to him? And then asked to have his sentence reduced? His name is Kwame Spaulding and he clinched it for King.
Steven King: From what I remember the things that Kwame knew, he could have only known that as a fact and that really weighed- that was the most, without Kwame it wouldn’t have been a case.
Jordan Smith: Both prosecutors and investigators swore that Spaulding’s story was legit. And, they told the jury, they knew that because he offered details of the crime that only the killer would know. Like that a .44 caliber revolver was used to murder Donna Brown. But that wasn’t true. That detail, and others, had been printed in the newspaper more than once. Jurors like King never knew that. An hour later, the jury voted again and decided to convict Devonia Inman. Inman’s old girlfriend, Christy Lima, says it wasn’t a fair trial.
Christy Lima: But they wouldn’t listen to nothing that I said, but Devonia’s lawyer told me I did a good job, because my story never changed, they just kept going back and forth about me being a stripper. It was never nothing about- they kept just putting me down like, “She was a stripper, I’ve got all these kids, how can they believe anything that I say when I let men pay me for money to have sex with them.” And I was like, wait a minute, what does that have to do with Devonia being on trial for murder? You know, the trial was just a mess. To me it wasn’t even a trial. It was just whatever the prosecutor said, that’s what it was. That’s it, that’s all.
Jordan Smith: While Bob Ellis insisted that being a woman helped Tatem to remember so clearly what happened the night Donna Brown died, he did not extend the same ability to Lima and her story that provided Inman an alibi. In fact, Ellis told the jury that Lima’s recollection — which never once varied — couldn’t be trusted because, he implied, she was a whore. “Are you going to believe those folks?” he asked the jury.
But the biggest problem with Inman’s trial probably wasn’t the faulty evidence or the lying witnesses or even the prosecutors who discredited the legitimate ones. It’s what wasn’t said.
Liliana Segura: By the end of 2000 there had been three more brutal killings in Adel. Shailesh Patel — the man we talked about at the beginning of this episode — was beaten and stabbed to death after work. His killer has never been caught. And a beloved shopkeeper and his employee. They were bludgeoned to death in broad daylight. A man named Hercules Brown was quickly arrested and charged with those murders.
Word had gone around town that Hercules Brown killed Donna Brown, too. Multiple people had told the GBI investigators that and Inman’s attorneys tried to talk about that during the trial, but the prosecutors wanted none of it. District Attorney Bob Ellis told the judge that there was no indication “whatsoever” that Hercules Brown had “anything to do with this.” One of Inman’s defense lawyers told the judge there was plenty of evidence implicating Hercules. For one, he was a closer at the Taco Bell and he’d recently been arrested for two savage armed robbery-murders. If Devonia Inman’s lesser crimes in California were enough to suggest a pattern of deadly violence, certainly Hercules Brown’s “similar transactions” should have been relevant.
And if there was nothing more concrete, it’s because the GBI never bothered to compare Hercules’ fingerprints to the ones lifted from the car. In fact, they completely ignored the warnings about Hercules altogether.
Jordan Smith: All of this happened outside the presence of the jury. The judge sided with Ellis. He said none of the evidence linking Hercules to the murder at the Taco Bell passed “the smell test, much less any test for trustworthiness.” So the jurors never heard it. But the judge, he was wrong. There was good reason to believe that Hercules was connected to Donna Brown’s murder — and to the others, including the unsolved murder of Shailesh Patel. To be clear, there is nothing definitive that connects Hercules Brown to Patel’s murder. But there was talk that he might have been responsible and that should have been worth looking into.
In Murderville, it seems things are often overlooked. That has consequences, like the wrong man, Devonia Inman, being sent to prison for murder.
Liliana Segura: Next time on Murderville, we’ll meet the Patel family. It took us a long time to track them down. When we did, they said some surprising things about the GBI and told us about the unanswered questions the family is still living with.
Murderville, Georgia is a production of The Intercept and Topic Studios. Alisa Roth is our producer. Ben Adair is our editor. Sound design, editing, and mixing by Bryan Pugh. Production assistance from Isabel Robertson. Our executive producer is Leital Molad. For The Intercept, Roger Hodge is our editor and Betsy Reed is the editor-in-chief. I’m Liliana Segura. And I’m Jordan Smith. You can read our series and see photos at theintercept.com/murderville. You can also follow us on Twitter @lilianasegura and @chronic_jordan. Talk to you next week. If you can’t wait for more episodes, you can binge listen to the entire season ad-free now on Stitcher Premium. For a free month of Stitcher Premium, go to stitcherpremium.com/murderville and use promo code MURDERVILLE.