Last week, the Georgia Supreme Court denied the State’s last-ditch effort to prevent Devonia Inman from having his case retried. Inman first went to prison for the murder of Donna Brown in 1998. This happened despite the fact that Inman has always sworn his innocence, and despite witnesses that approached police to point the finger at another man, Hercules Brown, evidence of which the police failed to hand over to the defense team (this was illegal). Ten years after the conviction, DNA evidence put Hercules in Donna Brown’s car. At that time, Inman requested a new trial but was denied by the trial court and on appeal. In 2017, lawyers working the case found further evidence of Inman’s innocence and filed another motion to a new trial. This time the district court agreed that Inman deserved a new trial. The Attorney General’s office appealed, and the case wound up again before the Georgia Supreme Court. This appeal resulted in the ruling that was issued this week.
I have been following the case carefully since it came to my attention months ago, when I first listened to the extremely well-produced podcast, Murderville, GA. I read the opinion as soon as it came out.
The opinion is striking.
I honestly don’t know if I have ever seen one like it before. In his concurrence, Presiding Justice David Nahmias expresses regret at the court’s 2014 refusal to review the case. “Everyone involved in our criminal justice system should dread the conviction and incarceration of innocent people,” he wrote. Chief Justice Melton wrote, “The evidence that potentially connects a different person other than Inman to the murder in this case raises some very troubling issues.”
When it comes down to it, cases like this are why defense lawyers do what we do. Our positions may not always be popular, and our work may not always be easy. But everyone who comes in contact with the system is innocent until proven guilty, and even the guilty have rights. The ultimate lesson that I hope people take away from this case is that sometimes, despite defense lawyers’ best efforts, the system gets it wrong. Innocent people do get convicted, and innocent people do go to prison. And if there’s a chance that that has happened, we should fix it.