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Ga. Senate Subcommittee tables compensation for Devonia Inman

The Georgia Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation voted recently to table until next year a resolution to compensate Devonia Inman $1,610,000 for his wrongful conviction in the 1998 murder of Taco Bell manager Donna Brown in Adel. 

The decision impacts three other cases from across the state as well.

A hearing on compensation from the state for Inman’s wrongful conviction was held on 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 House Resolution 70 for compensation of Devonia Inman before the State Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation. 

Under current Georgia law, a person exonerated of a crime must have a state legislator sponsor a resolution for compensation from the state. State Rep. Houston sponsored HR 70, “A RESOLUTION compensating Mr. Devonia Inman; and for other purposes.” On March 6, 2023, most of the House members voted to adopt HR 70: Yea – 170; Nay – 3; Not Voting – 3; and Absent – 3. State Rep. Chas Cannon joined Rep. Houston in voting in favor.

Under HR 70, Inman would be paid $70,000 for each year he was imprisoned. The payout would cover any potential claims against the state.

“I spent 23 years behind bars for something I didn’t do,” Inman said upon his release, according to the Georgia Innocence Project. “It took a really long time to fix, even though it was so clear I wasn’t guilty. I’m glad I get to finally go home, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped make that possible.”

“It’s very unfortunate what happened. There’s no amount of money that can compensate for the years he spent in prison, but this can help soften the blow,” Rep. Houston, the sponsor of the resolution, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

(Please see a copy of HR 70 in this week’s issue.)

HR 70 and three other resolutions compensating men for crimes for which courts found they were wrongfully convicted passed by a clear majority vote in the Georgia House. However, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee voted to  delay the compensation actions until the next legislative session so they could have time to review the evidence and statements in the cases. 

The Senate Subcommittee members who voted in favor of delaying the compensation actions say they basically need more time to review the cases to see if full exoneration occurred. 

Committee member Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Catuala, made the motion March 22 to table the resolutions. He said there is “a discrepancy” about the definition of exoneration and committee members need to be educated about the four cases.

The other resolutions are for Mario Stinchcomb and Michael Woolfolk,  exonerated in 2021 in an Atlanta murder case that was found to be self-defense, and for Terry Talley, wrongly convicted of sexual assault in a case in LaGrange. Talley was exonerated in 2021. He served almost 26 years in prison. A new investigation and DNA evidence cleared Talley of the crime.

Democrat Rep. Becky Evans, who sponsored the resolutions for Stinchcomb and Woolfolk, said their exonerations have already been thoroughly reviewed by the state Compensation Advisory Committee and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit.

The Georgia Innocence Project and other supporters worked to have HB 364, “the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act,” passed during the 2023 legislative session. 

State Rep. Houston co-sponsored 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.”

According to GPB News, “On March 29, 2023, the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act failed to make it to the final version of Senate Bill 35 on Sine Die. The bill was stripped and became a vehicle for SB 109, a glucose monitor bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Shelly Echols of District 49.”

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