Atlanta man is released from prison decades after he was wrongly convicted of murdering a Taco Bell night shift manager for $1,732
Jailed at the age of 20 for murder, Devonia Inman, 43, was released on Monday from prison in Georgia after spending 23 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit
Inman was convicted of the 1998 murder of Donna Brown, a Taco Bell night manager in Adel, Georgia
She was killed in the restaurant’s parking lot and robbed of about $1,700 of the day’s receipts
In 2001 Inmnan was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole
Inman was convicted with no physical evidence tying him to the crime and largely due to the testimony of four key witnesses, three of whom recanted a decade later
The recanting witnesses all claim they were pressurized by investigators to lie, while one witness maintains her stand, although her co-worker says she made up her story for a $5,000 reward
Prosecutors and investigators chose to ignore or hide vital evidence could have exonerated Inman and tied the actual killer, alone, to the crime
The judge refused to allow Inman’s lawyers to bring forth witnesses who said that Hercules Brown, a Taco Bell employee, killed Donna – who was no relation
Hercules Brown was convicted of murdering two more people in 2000 during another robbery, and is currently in prison
DNA connecting Hercules Brown to the murder of Donna Brown was found in 2011, but successive judges refused to reopen the case – until now
At the age of 20-year-old Devonia Inman was accused of killing the victim of a violent robbery in 1998.
23 years into his 2001 sentence of life without the possibility of parole, his wrongful murder conviction was overturned. Inman was enfolded in the warm embrace of his mother, as he walked out of prison on Monday a free man, aged 43.
Taco Bell night shift manager Donna Brown, 40, was shot and killed in 1998 as she left the restaurant where she worked carrying $1,732 in takings.
The actual killer, another Taco Bell employee, Hercules Brown – no relation – was never tried for the killing.
However in 2000, two years after Donna Brown was killed, he was convicted of two separate murders.
Inman who spent 23 years in a Georgia prison for a murder he did not commit was freed on Monday, over a decade after DNA tied a convicted killer to the crime.
‘I’m happy,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time.’ said Devonia Inman, who was greeted by his mother and stepfather, Dinah and David Ray, as he left Augusta State Medical Prison.
‘I’m happy,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long time.’
Inman was 20 when he was arrested for the 1998 killing of Donna Brown, a night manager at Taco Bell in Adel, Georgia. He was jailed after prosecutors withheld evidence pointing to his innocence, and remained there for 10 years after DNA identified a convicted murderer as Brown’s actual killer.
Brown, mother to a seven-year-old son, was leaving for the night with a bag containing $1,732 in cash.
A man shot her in the face, stole her car and drove off with the bag of money.
Inman, who had moved from California only a few months before to live with relatives, having fallen in with a bad crowd on the West Coast, was arrested shortly after based on the accounts of four witnesses.
One of the witnesses, Marquetta Thomas, was his girlfriend’s sister; another was a jailhouse snitch; and a third was a Taco Bell employee. All three later admitted they lied: the Taco Bell employee to satisfy persistent detectives, and the snitch to reduce his own sentence.
‘Basically, I made it up, just to get him out of the picture,’ said Thomas, who was the first to implicate Inman.
He was in a volatile romantic relationship with her younger sister, WSB reported.
‘I was like, ‘I’m going to get this guy,” Thomas admitted.
Jailhouse informant, Kwame Spaulding, who once shared a jail cell with Inman, supplied his information hoping to lighten his own sentence. Significantly, some of Spaulding’s information was also found in previously published newspaper articles on the case, including one erroneous report that the Taco Bell money bag had been recovered.
Later, Spaulding told the judge, “Basically everything was coerced,” adding that the detective “was telling me he’ll let me go home” and “stuff to say about the man.”
Taco Bell employee LarRisha Chapman in her first interview told investigators she was not a witness because she’d left work early on the night of the murder.
Later, her story changed to telling investigators she saw Inman hiding in bushes near the victim’s car, claiming she recognized his voice when he spoke to her.
At trial she admitted she was “just making that up because she was tired of the detectives calling her.”
Marquetta Thomas was the first to insist that Inman was responsible for Donna Brown’s murder.
Thomas was motivated by several factors to seek the downfall of Inman: She hated the way Devonia Inman, her sister’s boyfriend treated her sister, Christy.
She also felt hounded by investigators in the days and weeks after the murder. She still doesn’t understand why the cops came to her in the first place. “It’s just like they picked me out [at] random,” Thomas said.
Whereas Christy Lima, told investigators from the start that her boyfriend Inman was with her that evening and has never changed her story, Thomas said she was coerced into implicating Inman.
“I think they were just looking to pin the crime on somebody to make their job lighter, easier, and I was a pawn in their game that they used,” she said.
“It was verbal coercion because they would say, ‘Wasn’t this this?’ and I just agreed. I guess the story started getting formulated with bits and pieces they were telling me, and I just fused the story together to get [them] out of the picture.”
By the time the state called Thomas to testify in June 2001, the mother-of-four was facing serious legal jeopardy of her own, having been arrested for acting as a getaway driver in another unrelated armed robbery, The Intercept reports.
She was ultimately convicted and sent to prison, spending 14 years behind bars for her role in that crime.
The only witness who has not recanted her testimony is newspaper carrier Virginia Tatum, who selected Inman from a photo lineup after watching him allegedly race past her in the victim’s car.
Tatum did not approach investigators until more than a month after the crime. At this point Taco Bell had just announced it was offering a $5,000 reward in the case. However, a former co-worker challenged her story, indicating it was made up after the crime.
At trial, the judge refused to allow Inman’s lawyers to call witnesses who said that another man, Hercules Brown, who worked at the Taco Bell – no relation to Donna Brown – had admitted to the killing.
Inman always insisted he was innocent, but in 2001 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole. During Inman’s hearing, Hercules Brown refused to testify, asserting his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
When the Georgia Bureau of Investigation questioned him about his DNA being found inside the makeshift mask, Brown offered no answers.
In 2016, an agent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation interviewed inmate Hercules Brown. His DNA was found inside a ski mask recovered from Donna Brown’s car. The murder happened in 1998. Brown did not answer the question on how his DNA ended up inside the mask worn by the killer – despite having admitted his to the crime to some acquaintances
A decade later, the Georgia Innocence Project took up Inman’s case, after DNA evidence revealed that a ski mask worn during the robbery had Hercules Brown’s DNA on it.
A similar homemade ski mask was found in Hercules Brown’s car after another attempted armed robbery.
By this point, Hercules Brown was already in prison, having been convicted of the murder of two more people in an Adel convenience store two years after Donna Brown was killed.
In 2014 they petitioned for a new trial. That petition was was rejected, without explanation.
Three years later the case became the subject of a podcast created by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Inman’s lawyers from Troutman Pepper filed yet another appeal, in 2018, seeking that Inman’s conviction be overturned on grounds he is actually innocent.
The state Attorney General’s Office tried to get the latest appeal dismissed, but the state Supreme Court allowed it to proceed – with David Nahmias, the presiding justice on the Supreme Court, saying that of the more than 1,500 murder cases he had reviewed, this was among the most troubling.
‘Of the multitude of cases in which a new trial has been denied, Inman’s case is the one that causes me the most concern that an innocent person remains convicted and sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison,’ Nahmias wrote.
In November this year, a North Georgia judge found that prosecutors withheld critical evidence at Inman’s trial and orders a new trial.
On Monday, hours after Cook County prosecutors dismissed the murder charges against Inman, he walked out of prison a free man.
‘I can breathe now,’ his mother, Dinah Ray, said.
‘For 23 years, I’ve felt like my life was on hold.’