Why is it so hard to right a wrong in Georgia?
“Justice, not victory, is our chief goal.”
So say the Guiding Principles on the website of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
Yet the AG’s actions in the Devonia Inman case belie their stated chief goal.
Today we must ask a few questions. Why is it so hard to right a wrong in Georgia? When will the State demonstrate accountability and own up to its miscarriage of justice in the Devonia Inman case? Why is there such a double standard? And why is justice in Georgia such a moving target, subject to the whims of the powers that be?
Former GIP client Devonia Inman has been wrongfully imprisoned for over 20 years. Yesterday, he appeared in a Chattooga County Superior Court with his attorneys from Troutman Pepper for a hearing on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, arguing that his conviction should be vacated because he is innocent and did not get a fair trial.
Devonia was convicted of armed robbery and murder at a Taco Bell in Adel, Georgia in 2001, despite having an alibi and a lack of any physical evidence tying him to the crime. At his death penalty trial, the State said that Devonia wore a homemade mask as he shot and killed the victim. Devonia’s attorneys tried to argue to the jury that a man named Hercules Brown had confessed to the crime, but the judge refused and the prosecutor asserted there was not “one scintilla of evidence” linking Hercules Brown to the crime. Devonia Inman was sentenced to die in prison.
Years later, the Georgia Innocence Project was able to secure DNA testing on that homemade mask, which implicated none other than Hercules Brown, who had gone on to kill two other people while Devonia Inman sat in jail awaiting trial. Yet in 2014, the Cook County trial judge ruled the new evidence was not enough to grant Devonia a new trial.
In 2019, two Justices of the Georgia Supreme Court urged the prosecuting attorneys to exercise their discretion and consider giving Inman a new trial.
“Everyone involved in our criminal justice system should dread the conviction and incarceration of innocent people…
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,” said Presiding Justice Nahmias. “Let justice be done.”
Read both opinions in full below.
The Georgia Attorney General declined, and instead has fought to uphold Inman’s conviction. All of the original trial witnesses against Inman have recanted their testimony, except for one, who received a $5,000 reward and whose testimony is not only difficult to believe, but is directly contradicted by a person who was standing next to her.
Monday’s hearing focused on the fact that not only did the jury not hear that the homemade mask at the Taco Bell crime scene had Hercules Brown’s DNA on it, but that Brown was subsequently caught with a similar homemade mask in the trunk of his own car. During the trial, the State knew about the second homemade mask and failed to tell the judge or jury about it, even as the judge ruled that there was no reliable evidence linking Hercules Brown to the the Taco Bell murder.
Monday, Devonia Inman finally had his day in court on his habeas hearing, and for that we are grateful. Now we wait for the post-hearing briefing and Judge Graham’s decision. Will it be justice for a wrongfully convicted man? Or victory for the State?
You can read more about the hearing here, in the AJC.