Devonia Inman, who spent more than 23 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit in Adel, is currently seeking $1,610,000 of compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
In November 2021, a Superior Court judge granted Inman’s petition for habeas corpus relief. On Dec. 20, 2021, Inman walked out of Augusta State Medical Prison and into the arms of family in time to celebrate his first Christmas as a free man in more than two decades.
Inman, who was accused of the 1998 murder of Taco Bell manager Donna Brown, claimed for years that he was wrongfully sentenced. The Georgia Innocence Project and other watchdog groups in criminal justice and media stayed vigilant with the Inman case. In particular, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Intercept created podcasts with international exposure, “Murder Below the Gnat Line” and “Murderville.”
The judge who eventually overturned the conviction cited “prosecutorial misconduct” and ineffective defense counsel as the reasoning behind her decision. Inman’s supporters linked Hercules Brown II, who is serving life in prison without parole for the November 2000 double murder of Carroll Bennett and Becky Browning in Adel, to the murder two years earlier of Donna Brown.
Despite Inman’s alibi and the complete lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, Inman was convicted of armed robbery and malice murder, according to the Georgia Innocence Project. He was sentenced to life without parole, meaning he would have died in prison if not exonerated.
A hearing on compensation from the state for Inman’s wrongful conviction was held at 4 p.m. Monday, March 20, 2023, at the State Capitol in Atlanta, said Blis Savidge, Communications Manager for the Georgia Innocence Project.
Savidge confirmed that State Rep. Penny Houston of the 170th District was scheduled to bring HR 70 for compensation of Devonia Inman before the State Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation. Savidge also said Inman’s attorneys at at Troutman Pepper, who litigated his case pro bono and secured his exoneration, were likely to present his compensation claim to the Senate Subcommittee.
“The most unsettling thing about the current process is the fact that a request for compensation can be denied for any reason; there are no standards or criteria,” Savidge said. “When it comes down to it, the fate of a compensation resolution comes down to a handful of individuals who can rely upon their own personal opinions or the prevailing political winds. If those individuals vote not to pass the resolution, there is no opportunity for the wrongfully convicted, exonerated person to appeal, try again, or request a second, independent review.
“One egregious example: In 2005, one exoneree was awarded $1 million after being imprisoned for 17 years; at the same time, two other wrongfully convicted veterans, imprisoned for 15 years and exonerated by DNA, were denied compensation completely after the prosecuting attorney wrote a defamatory letter to legislators, killing their compensation bills.”
The Georgia Innocence Project and other supporters are working to have HB 364, “the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act,” passed during the 2023 legislative session.
State Rep. Houston is co-sponsoring House Bill 364, along with Rep. Holcomb of the 81st District, Buckner of the 137th District, Hugley of the 141st District, and Werkheiser of the 157th District.
According to the Georgia Innocence Project, the “Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act” seeks to implement a statutory process for fairly and uniformly compensating innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted. The Act:
• Creates a panel of experts under the existing Claims Advisory Board to evaluate wrongful conviction compensation claims and make recommendations.
• Provides uniformity and legislative control through clear eligibility and compensation criteria.
• Ensures only those who are innocent receive compensation.
• Awards $70,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, with an additional $25,000 for each year spent on Death Row, probation, or the sex offender registry.
• Avoids the need for individual resolutions by incorporating compensation into the Governor’s proposed budget.
• Protects the state from paying “double compensation” through a “civil offset provision.”
The Adel News will have more on this developing story.