A Georgia man walked out of prison Monday after spending 23 years behind bars for a murder he was exonerated of.
Devonia Inman, 43, was sentenced to life without parole for a 1998 murder and robbery of a Taco Bell manager in southern Georgia. There was no physical evidence tying him to the killing, and three of the four witnesses in his trial later recounted their testimony, according to the Georgia Innocence Project, which championed his case.
DNA testing later proved that convicted killer Hercules Brown’s DNA was on a ski mask left in the victim’s car, and a judge concluded last month that prosecutors withheld evidence and Inman was entitled to a new trial, according to the advocacy group. State officials did not appeal the ruling, and the local DA reportedly dismissed all charges and set the falsely convicted man free.
“I spent 23 years behind bars for something I didn’t do,” Inman reportedly said after leaving the Augusta State Medical Prison. “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.”
Donna Brown, who was not related to the new incarcerated suspect, was shot dead in the parking lot of her restaurant. The killer made off with $1,700 in cash receipts and her car, which was later found with the critical piece of evidence in it, advocates said.
“The hard part for the legal team ended on Monday,” Jess Cino, a law professor at Georgia State University who guided a student investigation into the case, told People Magazine.
“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.”
Inman’s road to freedom was slow and rocky despite “significant evidence supporting Devonia’s innocence and direct urging by leading justices of Georgia’s Supreme Court,” Georgia Innocence Project Executive Director Clare Gilbert said.
“It would be easy to say that justice was done in this case, but justice was very much delayed,” Cino told the magazine. “We’ve had the DNA results for 10 years, but courts kept slamming the door.”