Jessica Cino is a dean at the Georgia State University law school — and Devonia Inman’s biggest advocate. His plight has shaken Cino’s faith in the criminal justice system. She’s poured hours into his case, trying to help him clear his name. But the odds are stacked against him, and she knows it. But then new evidence comes to light — something the cops should have known about all along.
Liliana Segura: In 1895, a case called Coffin v. United States came before the Supreme Court. It was a complicated case. Alleging, more or less, that three men had aided and abetted a fourth in committing bank fraud.
Jordan Smith: The most important thing that came out of that case: The idea that a person is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Here’s how the court explained it: “The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary,” the court wrote, “and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.”
Liliana Segura: The presumption of innocence is fundamental, embedded in the guarantee of due process laid out in the Constitution. But there’s a flip side to this idea of innocent until proven guilty. It’s that once you’ve been found guilty of a crime it is really hard to prove you’re innocent, even when you are.
Jessica Cino: I think one of the biggest myths about the criminal justice system and the way it functions is that most of the time we get it right, but in the slim chance we get it wrong, we’ll be able to correct it down the road. That’s just not true. That’s not true on any level whatsoever.
Jordan Smith: That’s Jessica Cino. She’s a lawyer and a dean at the law school at Georgia State and Devonia Inman’s tireless and most determined advocate.
Jessica Cino: So the system, once you’re convicted, is, I won’t call it rigged, but once you’re convicted, it’s meant to keep you there.
Jordan Smith: That’s because the system operates with the idea of “finality” in mind. The Supreme Court has said as much. What really matters is that you got a “fair” trial. If the courts think you did, then that’s it. And that is, almost entirely, the final word.
Jessica Cino: That’s a complete design fault with the system. Like, it’s designed to keep people there, it’s designed to minimize challenges to convictions. It’s this notion of finality. So we will do everything possible to keep people where we think they belong.
Liliana Segura: But what if you didn’t get a fair trial? What if you’re found guilty, but you’re not? What if you’re Devonia Inman and you’ve been locked up for 20 years, insisting you’re innocent and almost no one with any power to help seems to give a damn? From The Intercept, I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: And I’m Jordan Smith. Welcome back to Murderville, Georgia.
Liliana Segura: It’s been three years since we started reporting this story. And the whole time there have been lawyers working on the case too, trying to find a way to exonerate Devonia Inman. There are plenty of reasons to believe that he’s innocent, including new information only recently uncovered. So does he have a chance?
Jordan Smith: First, let’s review. Back in September 1998, Donna Brown was murdered in the parking lot of the Taco Bell in tiny Adel, Georgia. She was killed by a single bullet, fired at close range. It tore through her right eye. The Adel police quickly turned the case over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or GBI. That’s pretty routine for small departments in rural Georgia when there’s a major crime to solve. In 1998, this crime and this town fit that bill.
Liliana Segura: GBI agent Jamy Steinberg led the investigation and he quickly focused on a 20-year-old man from California, Devonia Inman. His family had deep roots in Adel, but aside from yearly visits to see his relatives, he was pretty much an outsider. Focusing on Inman, Steinberg ignored other lead, good ones. In fact, as he homed in on Inman, folks around town were pointing to another man as the real killer: Hercules Brown. Some even told the investigators about him and that he was responsible for Donna Brown’s murder. They didn’t listen.
Jordan Smith: Inman insisted he had nothing to do with the crime and there was zero physical evidence tying him to it, but he was charged with it anyway. And after an equally messed up trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Liliana Segura: But even before that, even as Devonia Inman sat in jail waiting to be tried and facing the death penalty, there were three more vicious murders in Adel. In the spring of 2000 a man named Shailesh Patel was beaten to death in a relative’s home. Again, the GBI was brought in. And, again, there were rumors: Talk that Hercules Brown had something to do with it. Patel’s murder remains unsolved. And just months after that, more bloodshed. The gruesome bludgeoning death of William Carroll Bennett, owner of a mom-and-pop grocery and lunch counter, and his employee, Rebecca Browning. They were killed in the store, just before lunchtime. Within an hour, a suspect was picked up. It was Hercules Brown. Steinberg had a hand in that case too. And, ultimately, Hercules pleaded guilty to the double murder, in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table. He’s doing life in prison, too.
Jordan Smith: Devonia Inman had been locked up for more than a decade, when lawyers looking into his case went back to a key piece of evidence that had never been tested for DNA: a mask made from gray sweatpants. It had been left on the passenger seat of Donna Brown’s car the night she was killed. When Inman was on trial, the prosecutors said that it was worn by her killer. In 2011, the lawyers finally had it tested. There was DNA inside from a single source. It belonged to Hercules Brown.
Aimee Maxwell: I’m Aimee Maxwell.
Liliana Segura: Aimee Maxwell was the executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project when she received a letter from Devonia Inman asking for help to clear his name. When we met Maxwell, she and her team were working in a former nail salon in a strip mall in Decatur, next to a Wal-Mart. The old carpet had been ripped out to get rid of the smell of chemicals, but otherwise, the space still had all the remnants of the previous business, Nails 4 U, including the price list hanging on the wall.
Aimee Maxwell: Devonia first wrote us in 2002, I believe, so he’s case number 63 of- now we’re up to almost 6,500 cases that we’ve looked at. So we started looking at his case early on and have stayed with his case all through the many years.
Liliana Segura: Maxwell was really affected by the case. There was just so much wrong with it.
Aimee Maxwell: Probably one of the things that stands out first is how many of the witnesses recanted or changed their story and how many of them had to be brought to court from jail or prison. It was very telling who the witnesses were against him and, you know, the recantations- the question is, do you believe them then or now? You can’t figure out when they’re telling the truth. Do you really want to put a man in prison with life without parole? That’s the shocking thing, and it could have possibly been death. Is that really the kind of evidence you want to use when you put somebody in prison?
Liliana Segura: And there was even more crappy evidence. There was the jailhouse snitch who said Inman had confessed to him and then asked what he might get in exchange for telling his story. And the newspaper carrier who came up with an elaborate and implausible claim about seeing Inman fleeing the scene in Donna Brown’s car and who only came forward after Inman had been arrested and after a $5,000 reward was offered. In short? Each of them had a clear incentive to testify against Inman.
Aimee Maxwell: So there really was no witness that put Devonia at the scene or in any involvement at all that wasn’t incentivized.
Liliana Segura: That’s why the DNA found on the mask inside the car was such a game-changer. The evidence against Inman at trial was just weak. And there were all those people who’d said that Hercules was responsible for Donna Brown’s murder. And now his DNA, and only his DNA, had been found on the mask. To Maxwell, it was clear that Inman deserved a new trial.
Jordan Smith: Maxwell and another attorney with the Georgia Innocence Project, Christina Cribbs, dove into Inman’s case. Thousands of pages of trial transcripts and police reports. They got volunteer lawyers from a big firm in Atlanta to help out. After getting the DNA results, they filed a motion with the court down in Cook County. Officially it’s known as an EMNT. An Extraordinary Motion for a New Trial. And it was granted. A judge down in Adel would hear what they had to say. That judge would consider the DNA evidence and decide if it was compelling enough to undermine Inman’s conviction and if Inman deserved a new trial. Meanwhile, the Cook County district attorney’s office, the one that was led by Bob Ellis at the time of Inman’s original trial, they would argue against them that the DNA was not important and that Inman was clearly guilty. Ellis wasn’t the DA anymore and he wouldn’t be at the hearing, but he agreed with the state’s position. We met him for lunch at a buffet restaurant. He talked with his mouth full and kept banging his hand on the table.
Bob Ellis: We never once thought that this defendant was not guilty. We tried to have integrity about what we did.
Jordan Smith: Right. Do you remember what it was in particular that really sealed that deal for you that made you think that he was guilty?
Bob Ellis: I honestly can’t remember.
Jordan Smith: The hearing got off to a rocky start. For one thing, there was the fact that the judge who would hear the case was the same judge who presided over Inman’s original trial.
Aimee Maxwell: It makes it so much more difficult because it’s really hard for anybody to say what happened- what I did may not have been the right thing. I sat- I was the judge on this case where there were mistakes made and we may have put an innocent person in prison. That’s a hard thing for any human being to say, to be okay with.
Jordan Smith: This is common — and not just in Georgia. And it does not inspire confidence. Then the judge made clear he didn’t have much time. Maxwell thought their evidence could take two days of testimony. The judge gave them half a day. If that wasn’t enough, he said, they could reschedule. But getting to this point had taken years, so Maxwell decided to go for it.
Aimee Maxwell: I think we were all pretty confident about what we had. I mean, obviously we were nervous because this is the one shot, right, and we had to convince the trial judge that let all that nonsense happen in trial. We’ve got to convince him that what- all those witnesses were all wrong and that what happened was wrong.
Jordan Smith: They told the judge about the DNA on the mask and why it was so critical.
Liliana Segura: Remember, Jamy Steinberg, the GBI agent, had gone to see Hercules in prison back when the DNA match first came up. And the interview is a little crazy. While questioning him, Steinberg gave Hercules every single “out” he could think of.
Jamy Steinberg: I mean, is there any way – I’m just tryin’ to figure out – is there any way that you could have tried this mask on or y’all had done something in the past? You know…
Liliana Segura: Is it possible, Steinberg asks, that Hercules tried on the mask at some point?
Hercules Brown: It been a long time man.
Liliana Segura: Then Steinberg tries to figure out what kind of relationship Hercules had with Devonia Inman.
Jamy Steinberg: What was your relationship with Devonia?
Hercules Brown: I didn’t have a relationship with Devonia.
Jamy Steinberg: And I’m not tryin’ to do smoke and mirrors, I’m asking, I mean, did you know that he was in town, even when that happened, he had not been in Adel very long.
Hercules Brown: I don’t know- I don’t remember that. I don’t know. I don’t know him.
Liliana Segura: If you didn’t catch that, Hercules said no. He said he’d seen Inman before. But he didn’t know him.
Jordan Smith: This is a crucial point. At Inman’s trial, the prosecutors, Bob Ellis and Tim Eidson, had pursued a conviction with a simple theory: Devonia Inman acted alone in robbing and killing Donna Brown. If that was the case, there is no reason why the only DNA found in her car belonged to Hercules Brown. Maxwell called Hercules as a witness during the hearing, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify. He wasn’t the only one. Maxwell wanted to question the newspaper carrier, Virginia Tatem, about her wild story and about whether she’d collected the reward money after testifying at Inman’s trial. She refused to answer questions, too. The judge said that was fine. And then there was the snitch, Kwame Spaulding. He did answer questions on the stand and said that the story he’d told about Inman confessing was just that: a story. He’d been coerced by the GBI, he said. The judge cut him off, basically said he didn’t want to hear about it. We wrote numerous letters to Spaulding, hoping he would talk to us about what had happened with the GBI.
Kwame Spaulding: Yo, hello, Jordan Smith, how you doing? It’s Kwame Spaulding. I was calling in reference to thousands of notifications you sent me. I’m just trying to figure out, like, how is this beneficial to me? You know what I’m saying? It’s going to be beneficial to me, you know?
Jordan Smith: Yeah, we knew what he meant.
Kwame Spaulding: Exactly what [inaudible] give me a call right now. Kind of dangerous, you know what I’m saying? [inaudible] in that position, so yeah, let me know. I’ll call you back.
Jordan Smith: Dangerous. We don’t know exactly what he was referring to, but we could certainly make some guesses. For one, no one wants to be out there talking smack about the GBI, or about a guy like Hercules, for that matter, even if he is in prison. So, in the end, he just didn’t talk to us.
Liliana Segura: He tried to speak up once and the people who could have done something about it did their best to ignore him. To the state, anything he had to say now didn’t matter and neither did the DNA. The prosecutors used a new theory to explain it away: The gray mask might have implicated Hercules, but it didn’t exonerate Devonia Inman. The two of them must have pulled off the murder together. They pushed this, even though it completely clashed with the theory they presented at trial. We talked to Tim Eidson about this. Remember, he’s the one who told us that Hercules’s mom had provided an alibi for her son and how police and prosecutors believed her, because she was a well-respected lady. When we met, Eidson had gone back to working as a defense attorney, traveling between south Georgia and eastern Alabama. We reached him on Facebook — he’s an avid user and has a penchant for selfies. He remembered how he found out about the DNA.
Tim Eidson: Now I know that my ex-wife called me one day and he was kind of in a tizzy because they had got a call from someone and she says, “Do you remember that mask that you found?” And I said yeah. She said, “Well, they found that it had Hercules Brown’s DNA in it.” Well, it wasn’t like it was a shocking revelation or anything. I just said, “Really?” She said, “Yeah, and they’re saying that he might have been involved in the Taco Bell murder.”
Liliana Segura: You might ask why his ex-wife found out about the DNA before he did. Well, that goes back to the kind of small town Adel was.
Tim Eidson: The reason she called is because Hercules Brown killed her uncle.
Liliana Segura: William Bennett, that is. The grocery store owner who was beaten to death with a bat.
Tim Eidson: And that was my ex-wife’s uncle. That’s how I knew all of these people. You know, I mean, that’s how I found out about Hercules Brown’s DNA. Nobody ever called me on the phone and said, “Hey, let’s tell you about that ski mask.” I hadn’t worked with the prosecution in several years. It wasn’t like it was shocking because his name kept popping up during the hearing.
Liliana Segura: Not just at the hearing, but at Inman’s trial, too. Back then, several people said Hercules either confessed to them or had asked them to rob the Taco Bell with him. But Eidson and Ellis had convinced the judge not to let any of them testify. At the hearing, Amy Maxwell reminded the judge that he had ruled against Inman’s lawyers when they tried to introduce that evidence at trial. “Is that a nice, euphemistic way of saying I screwed up?” the judge said. Maxwell said no, of course not.
Jordan Smith: The judge wasn’t the only one being defensive. When Steinberg, the GBI agent, took the stand, he was downright surly. Maxwell asked if he’d done any more investigation after he got the DNA match to Hercules. Steinberg said no. Did he try to see if the fingerprints from Donna Brown’s car matched Hercules? “I just answered that question,” he said. If there was any doubt the judge wasn’t taking things all that seriously, his ruling would make it pretty clear. They lost the case and Inman would remain in prison. Adding insult to injury, the judge asked the prosecutor to write up his decision for him. That isn’t supposed to happen, but it does. This is Maxwell’s colleague, Christina Cribbs.
Christina Cribbs: He gave no reasoning, he allowed the state to draft the order, to explain why the ruling was coming their way. So we really had zero insight into what made the judge go one way or the other, and we never did. We do know that he told us in an email as well, that he wouldn’t be surprised if he was overturned on appeal, that he thought it was a really close case.
Jordan Smith: We asked Bob Ellis, the former prosecutor, if there was any chance the state might have gotten it wrong.
Bob Ellis: There’s a chance that the sun will rise in the west. You hope you get it right. I just don’t know. Based on what we had at the time, we felt strongly that we had the right guy or we wouldn’t have gone forward.
Jordan Smith: We tried the question a different way.
Liliana Segura: In light of the DNA testing that was done and the fact that there are people asking questions about this conviction, even if you have a different perspective, are you glad that the jury didn’t come back with a death sentence in this case?
Bob Ellis: I think I’m probably neutral. I think it is what it is.
Jordan Smith: It is what it is.
Liliana Segura: It’s easy to say that when you’re not sitting in a prison cell for a crime you didn’t commit. The ruling was confounding to Maxwell and Cribbs. They didn’t understand how the judge could shrug at a clear miscarriage of justice. He knew that the defense had always suspected Hercules Brown was guilty. Now that they DNA to prove it, he didn’t seem to care.
Christina Cribbs: So, to me, that was a no brainer. Here’s what you wanted. Here’s scientific evidence. Here’s objective proof that Hercules was involved in this, and how do you not get a new trial based on that? The jury should know. So let’s have a new trial, let’s present Hercules as an alternate suspect and let’s let the jury hear about the DNA and these people who said Hercules confessed to them. But the judge didn’t go for it.
Liliana Segura: And also, the state was now claiming that their entire theory of the case, that Inman acted alone, wasn’t their theory at all. Instead, Inman conspired with Hercules to kill Donna Brown. Maxwell and Cribbs knew they had to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. But the law says that the Court doesn’t have to review the case if it doesn’t want to.
Christina Cribbs: The Supreme Court decides whether they want to look at the case or not. If they decide they don’t want to look at the case, then you’re stuck with the trial court’s decision and there’s nowhere to go from there.
Jordan Smith: And guess what? The Georgia Supreme Court wasn’t interested. They rejected the appeal.
Liliana Segura: The lawyers were devastated. They were certain Inman was innocent and that Hercules killed Donna Brown.
Aimee Maxwell: I pretty much think about this case almost every day. I can’t believe that this young man is in prison for the rest of his life based on a bunch of liars.
Liliana Segura: It wasn’t long after Maxwell received the news from the Georgia Supreme Court that Jessica Cino walked into her office. Since joining the faculty at Georgia State, Cino had developed a pretty close relationship with the Innocence Project.
Jessica Cino: I wanted to talk and hang out ’cause I love talking to other lawyers and learning about their cases, and they had just gotten the letter from the Georgia Supreme Court declining review and so Aimee started telling me about this case.
Liliana Segura: Cino was horrified.
Jessica Cino: I think even my own notions of how the criminal justice system worked and how pivotal DNA evidence is in cases was tested.
Liliana Segura: She started reading Inman’s case file. The more she did, the more disturbed she was. She knew she had to find a way to help Inman.
Jessica Cino: I don’t even necessarily know if there’s really a way to define what it is about the case other than it’s just so appalling and depressing that if I don’t try to do everything I can, then who I think of as myself as a lawyer doesn’t really matter much. This is a case that cries out for people to look at and to re-examine and I wouldn’t be able to just walk away from it.
Jordan Smith: There were all the recanting witnesses. The people who’d told the GBI that Hercules was responsible for the murder. The fact that Hercules was in prison for killing Bennett and Browning and the rumors that he’d also been involved in Patel’s death.
Jessica Cino: Yeah, I mean, it’s convenient, right? The minute he gets locked up, people stop dying in this little town. That says a lot and it would be great if he could answer questions about that.
Jordan Smith: We tried to reach Hercules Brown a bunch of times. He only responded once with a brief letter. He wrote that he had nothing to say. For Cino, one of the biggest red flags in the case was that the prosecutors changed their theory of the crime. Going from Inman acted alone to Inman and Hercules did it together.
Jessica Cino: I would call it a bait and switch, absolutely.
Jordan Smith: And what the prosecution did? It wasn’t legal.
Jessica Cino: The indictment that says that one and only one person committed this crime. And they never left room in the indictment for anybody else.
Jordan Smith: So how can they do that?
Jessica Cino: Under Georgia law, they should not be able to do that.
Jordan Smith: The case offended her. She gathered together a team of law students. They went to see Inman and made a number of trips to Adel to poke around. Finally, Cino enlisted the help of attorneys from Troutman Sanders, a prestigious Atlanta law firm. She convinced them to take over the case for free.
Liliana Segura: But there was a problem. The Georgia Supreme Court had refused to consider the case and that meant Inman was basically out of options. He had no easy avenue of appeal. Remember that notion of finality the criminal justice system loves so much? That’s what Inman was up against.
Jessica Cino: The US constitution does not guarantee that only guilty people get convicted. The US constitution merely guarantees that you are entitled to a fair trial and if the system has deemed that even you, innocent person, got a fair trial, then you’re screwed. You don’t have a constitutional right to come back and prove your innocence after you’ve been convicted. The whole point to it is we reinforce finality because we want the criminal justice system to be able to sleep at night, so we can’t go around just willy-nilly overturning convictions because that would be a serious problem.
Liliana Segura: The lawyers would have to find a way to squeeze back into court, and it wouldn’t be easy. While they worked on tackling the legal arguments, Cino became Inman’s lifeline to the outside world. For the hundreds of hours she’s poured into the case, in some ways, that’s the hardest part: managing his expectations.
Jessica Cino: It keeps me up at night. Because whenever I talk to him on the phone, and he always asks me “What are the chances of me getting out? Do I have a good chance?” He wants to be optimistic and the lawyer in me knows the reality of what he faces, of it being an uphill battle.
Liliana Segura: The lawyers wanted to prove that Inman is innocent. But in order to do so, they would need to show that his constitutional rights were violated at trial. Without that, the courts wouldn’t even consider another appeal. Not one based only on his claim of innocence. But the chances of finding something new, so many years later, was a longshot. And then they found it.
Jordan Smith: Last year, Troutman Sanders sent an investigator down to Adel to find more people to talk to. They found Kim Brooks. She had gone to work at the Taco Bell shortly after Donna Brown was murdered. In fact, she took over Brown’s position. Hercules was still working there at the time. And what Brooks remembers is a pretty big deal. Big enough that it could get Inman back into court. Brooks said that when she worked at the Taco Bell, Hercules harassed her. He would “play” like he was going to rob her and hurt her. More importantly, she said that Hercules Brown asked her to help him pull off an “inside job” to rob the store. He would “rough her up” to make it look realistic, and they would split the money. This is the same thing that Inman’s cousin Takeisha Pickett told us. She said Hercules had asked her to rob the Taco Bell too. But that’s not the only thing. Brooks says that at one point, Hercules confessed that he had done something “bad.” He didn’t say what. But she asked him if someone else was going to pay for it. He said, “It’s better their life than mine.”
Liliana Segura: This is pretty damning. But it’s not even the craziest part. Kim Brooks didn’t sit on this information. Hercules creeped her out enough that she decided to tell the cops. There was this one police sergeant, Joel Reddick, who would escort her to the bank to do the night deposits. She tried to tell him about Hercules’ suspicious behavior, but he brushed her off. Still, she wouldn’t let it go. So finally, he told her to call the GBI. Jamy Steinberg. In a legal filing, lawyers from Troutman Sanders describe what happened next:
“Ms. Brooks contacted Agent Steinberg to inform him that she believed Mr. Brown to be involved with Donna Brown’s murder. In response, Ms. Brooks was informed that Donna Brown’s murderer had been found, and that the case was closed. Ms. Brooks believes that this conversation occurred sometime in the months after the murder, but no later than December 1998.”
Jordan Smith: In December 1998, Devonia Inman hadn’t even been indicted yet. The information that Brooks provided to the GBI should have been included in the police report and shared with Inman’s lawyers before his trial. It’s what is known as “Brady material.” Facts and evidence that contradict the state’s case. But it wasn’t reported and it wasn’t handed over. That’s a constitutional violation. The kind of violation that could get Inman back into court.
Liliana Segura: This past January, the legal team at Troutman Sanders filed a special appeal seeking to overturn Inman’s conviction. It’s what is known as a “writ of habeas corpus.” The appeal is currently pending before a state district judge. It’s a major long shot and there’s no telling when the judge will rule. It could take years, because the law doesn’t put a deadline on such decisions. We tried to reach Steinberg again. He previously brushed us off, said Inman’s case was closed and he had nothing more to say about it.
Lisa: GBI, this is Lisa, how can I help you?
Liliana Segura: Hi, yes, I was hoping to reach Jamy Steinberg.
Lisa: He will return to the office tomorrow. Can I give him a message to return your call?
Liliana Segura: That’d be great, yea. My name is Liliana Segura…
Liliana Segura: He didn’t call us back. We were able to reach Joel Reddick, the Adel cop Brooks told about Hercules. He wasn’t particularly helpful either.
Liliana Segura: So yea, so Kim Brooks, the reason we were asking you about her is that in the weeks and months after Donna Brown died, she says that she knew you because apparently you used to be one of the police officers who would provide an escort when, you know-
Joel Reddick: Yeah.
Liliana Segura: Yeah. To make deposits at the bank, so she knew you from there and she says that she told you at one point that she had been disturbed by some behavior and some things that were said by Hercules Brown who she was working with at the night shift at the Taco Bell.
Joel Reddick: I don’t remember none of that. I- seriously I don’t. I didn’t even remember that Kim Brooks you just said.
Liliana Segura: This wasn’t a big surprise. For all the cops we’ve talked to over these last three years, hardly anyone remembers anything. To be honest, we didn’t remember who Reddick was until we went back to the GBI report. It turns out he was one of the first cops dispatched to the Taco Bell. Only he and his partner went to the wrong parking lot. Twice. First to the Waffle House and then the Huddle House, before finally finding the crime scene next door. To Cino, Brooks’ story was a bombshell.
Jessica Cino: So I think my reaction at first was, “oh my god, this is huge.” Right? There’s this feeling of elation of, you know, it’s not a smoking gun, but it certainly helps his case, especially from the perspective of, we have to clear some procedural legal hurdles in order for a court to hear this case. So in one aspect, it’s that. You think about it, like, she reported it. She tried to get them to do something. And this was, you know, decades ago. Like, it’s just- It’s staggering and it’s sad. It’s infuriating. And I’m not the one sitting in prison. I can’t imagine how he feels about this.
Jordan Smith: Talking to Devonia Inman is not easy. We’ve talked to him a number of times on the phone. He is despairing and quite often, deeply depressed.
Devonia Inman: These people don’t even care about messing, they don’t care about my life. How somebody can just find somebody guilty for something and they didn’t even did nothing?
Jordan Smith: He doesn’t understand why he is still in prison, even though DNA clears him. His parents, Dinah and David Ray, don’t understand it either.
Liliana Segura: Do you remember when you heard about the DNA evidence?
Dinah Ray: Yes. I remember we were sitting in front of my job in the car on our lunch break when Aimee called us and told us that the DNA had came back and it was Hercules Brown and all we could do was cry. We thought, this is it. He’s going to be coming home soon. But that didn’t happen.
David Ray: It’s been almost what, six years? Six years since they had the DNA evidence, and they still didn’t let him come home. That’s me and my wife, she wrote everybody. The president to everybody. And we still can’t believe this.
Jordan Smith: Jessica Cino has spent a lot of time trying to explain this to Inman and to his parents and to anyone else who will listen.
Jessica Cino: I think the issue that shocks the most people is how it is so different from what they read in the headlines of, oh, there’s DNA, points to somebody else, somebody else who we can actually go and look at who that person is and see, oh, they actually went on to commit similar crimes to this… and the courts don’t care. That they just don’t give a damn. And I think that to most people is probably what shocks them because it does not fit into any of those nice little boxes that we like to put wrongful convictions in. We like to think that they get solved and ultimately, the wheels of Justice turn the way they’re supposed to but in this case, it didn’t.
Liliana Segura: And it’s not just in this case. We’ve written a lot of stories about people who are in similar circumstances. Innocent and in prison, out of appeals, sometimes facing execution, and nobody seems to care. People think that mistakes in the criminal justice system are rare and just get sorted out on their own, but they don’t. In a way, Devonia Inman is lucky, because he has a dedicated legal team actively trying to help him. That’s not a given. Still, they may not be able to help him in the end. He may die in prison.
David Ray: This is supposed to be the justice system? My son been wrongly accused of this justice system. Something is wrong with this system. It needs to be checked again.
Jordan Smith: It’s not too late. But it’s up to Georgia now to fix it.
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. Thanks for listening.