After finishing her shift and locking the premises up, restaurant manager Donna Brown walked across the car park to her car late one night carrying the day’s takings. Before she could get into the car, a masked assailant shot her in the face, took her money, took her car, and escaped.
Days later, with no physical evidence, no forensic evidence, no blood evidence and no fingerprints to tie him to the crime, police arrested and charged 20 year old Devonia Inman with the murder. To counter the lack of evidence the police produced three eye witnesses to the shooting – one of Brown’s colleagues, who saw the murder; Inman’s girlfriend’s sister, who said that he came back to their house that night covered in blood and with a sackful of money; and a prisoner who shared a cell with Inman after his arrest, to whom Inman admitted the murder. With such conclusive evidence Inman stood no chance. He was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.
This case forms the basis of season 4 of the excellent AJC Breakdown podcast, written and hosted by experienced crime reporter Bill Rankin. With an affable and laidback manner that disguises a keen perception and passionate interest in criminal justice, Rankin is a terrifically listenable host who isn’t afraid to bring a little levity to proceedings – usually when he’s discussing some aspect of a case that defies common sense.
In this instance, he has plenty of material to work with. Inman’s girlfriend’s sister – who by the time of Inman’s trial had herself been arrested – admitted that she made the whole thing up because she didn’t like him and wanted him out of the way. After recanting, she corroborated the alibi that other people provided for Inman. Brown’s colleague originally said that she saw Inman hiding in bushes near the restaurant and recognised his voice. Later, she admitted that it was lies, made up because she was a tired and vulnerable young person coerced into saying literally anything just so that detectives would allow her to go home. Meanwhile jailhouse snitch Kwame Spaulding’s story of Inman’s confession contained incorrect details from erroneous newspaper reports which he says he only gave because detectives told him they might let him go home if he gave a statement implicating Inman.
Although all the “witnesses” quickly recanted their original statement, the judge decided to allow them all into evidence, stating that the jury would have to decide whether they were telling the truth in either statement.
Although there was a general lack of evidence, there was DNA. It was DNA taken from saliva inside the mask that the assailant wore, which was left in the car when they dumped it later. Despite it being visible in photos taken when the car was found, police were apparently unable to see it during their “forensic investigation”. Brown’s family found it when the car was returned and handed it in to police.
The DNA was tested and found to belong to another man, Hercules Brown, another employee at the restaurant where the victim (no relation) worked. The judge refused to allow three witnesses to whom Brown confessed the murder to testify at trial. Brown is currently serving life for murdering two convenience store workers two years after the murder. Despite the DNA evidence, three confession witnesses, Hercules Brown’s penchant for violence (known before Donna Brown’s murder) and his refusal to answer questions about the crime when asked later, all of Inman’s appeals have been denied.
Inman has very few legal options left and is likely to die in prison, where he has been since 2001.
- AJC Breakdown: http://www.myajc.com/voices/breakdown/
- Who Killed Donna Brown? Georgia State University College of Law: http://law.gsu.edu/2016/02/24/killed-donna-brown-cino-students-investigate-old-murder-case/
- Will a technicality keep an innocent man in prison for life?: http://mimesislaw.com/fault-lines/devonia-inman-will-a-technicality-keep-an-innocent-man-in-prison-for-life/7518
- GIP client may die in prison despite DNA evidence proving innocence: https://www.georgiainnocenceproject.org/2016/03/03/1459-2/
- DNA Denial: http://projects.wsb.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/dna-denial/