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Devonia Inman, freed after wrongful murder conviction, sues City of Adel and individuals: Complaint alleges frame-up put him in prison for 23 years

Devonia Inman has filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Adel and several individuals in connection with his wrongful conviction in the 1998 murder of Taco Bell manager Donna Brown in Adel, according to court records.

“This is Inman’s effort to obtain justice and accountability after having been wrongfully incarcerated for 23 years,” the complaint states. “He seeks compensation, to the extent possible, for the harms he has suffered, and deterrence, so that what happens to him does not happen to anyone else ever again in our state.”

The suit was filed Nov. 16, 2023, in DeKalb County State Court. Inman is being represented by Zack Greenamyre with the Mitchell Shapiro Greenamyre & Funt, LLP law firm of Atlanta.

In addition to the City of Adel, the individual defendants named in the complaint are James Steinberg, Charles Whitley, Jeffrey Roesler, James Karnes, James Hill, Joel Reddick, Lucinda Brown, Maria Clay, Kwame Spaulding, Melinda Ryals, and August Siemon.

According to the 52-page, complex complaint, “Devonia Inman was wrongfully convicted of murder. Despite his factual innocence, he spent twenty-three years in prison.

“While Inman was detained for a crime he did not commit, the real killer [which the complaint alleges was Hercules Brown II] was allowed to commit additional and horrific murders.

“After many years of injustices and injuries, fraught legal proceedings, endless protestations of innocence, and some podcasts, Inman was finally released.

“The Superior Court of Chattooga County granted a writ of habeas corpus, finding that law enforcement violated Inman’s due process rights, as elaborated in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by suppressing material exculpatory evidence.

“Inman’s wrongful incarceration was not the product of mistakes by law enforcement. Rather, the law enforcement Defendants intentionally fabricated evidence, threatened witnesses to falsely point the finger at Inman, improperly suggested witnesses to identify Inman, and suppressed evidence that pointed to the real killer. 

[One of the methods of coercion to have female witnesses testify against Inman was threats that DFCS would take the witnesses’ kids and benefits, the suit states.] 

“That Court also held that Inman’s defense counsel denied him his right to counsel, as set out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), by rendering constitutionally deficient performance.

“The defense counsel Defendants’ negligence also caused Inman to be wrongfully confined for many years.

“On Dec. 20, 2021, the Superior Court of Cook County granted a motion to enter nolle prosequi for [to drop] all charges.”

According to the complaint, the plaintiff brings suit against certain law enforcement officers of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and against the City of Adel under federal law. The plaintiff brings claims against Adel Police Department officers and Lucinda Brown under state and federal law. The plaintiff also brings claims against the defense counsel defendants under state law. The suit states that venue is proper in the State Court of DeKalb County because defendants Spaulding and Siemon are residents of DeKalb County and some of the events giving rise to the action occurred in DeKalb County and all defendants are Georgia residents.

According to the suit, James “Jamy” Steinberg, Charles “Scott” Whitley, Jeffrey “Jeff” Roesler, and James “Jamie” Karnes were each at all times relevant to the complaint a Special Agent of the GBI; James “Jimmy” Hill and Joel Reddick were each officers of the Adel Police Department; Lucinda Brown was an investigator for the Division of Family and Children Services; Maria Clay was an officer with the Tift County Sheriff’s Office; and Melinda Ryals and August Siemon were defense attorneys. Spaulding was a “jailhouse informant,” who spent a short time with Inman while Inman was held pretrial. 

The complaint alleges that in the early morning hours on Sept. 19, 1998, Donna Brown was shot and killed during a robbery by Hercules Brown II (no relation to her), who was one of her co-workers at Taco Bell. Lucinda Brown, a defendant in Inman’s civil lawsuit, is Hercules Brown’s mother. It should be noted that although Hercules Brown was convicted of two other murders in Adel, he has not been convicted of Ms. Brown’s murder.

The suit states that there was no physical evidence of any variety connecting Inman to Ms. Brown’s murder. According to the suit, “fingerprints were successfully lifted from the driver’s side of Donna Brown’s vehicle. These latent prints were compared against Devonia Inman, but the prints did not match. The latent prints were tested against at least two potential alternate suspects with negative results.”

This testing occurred in 2021, after Hercules Brown had been arrested in October 2000 for the brutal murders with a baseball bat of Adel store owner William Carroll Bennett and his employee Rebecca Ann Browning. “Inexplicably, the latent prints [from Ms. Brown’s car] were not tested against Hercules Brown’s fingerprints. Or, alternatively, the prints were tested and matched Hercules Brown.”

The suit continues, “Sometime after Hercules Brown’s mask from Donna Brown’s car was tested in 2011, which showed that the DNA [on the mask] matched Hercules Brown and excluded Inman, all sets of the latent prints were destroyed.” The destruction of these latent prints was contrary to GBI and Adel Police Department policy, the suit adds.

In discussing damages, the lawsuit notes that Inman suffered serious physical injuries, including being sexually assaulted which caused him to be repeatedly hospitalized, before and after his wrongful conviction for the murder.

Inman demands a trial by jury in his complaint. He also seeks “nominal, compensatory, special, and punitive damages … in an amount to be proven at trial,” and to have attorney’s fees and court costs paid by the defendants.

The Adel News will report the City of Adel’s and defendants’ formal responses to Inman’s assertions once those court filings are made. A law enforcement official who Inman’s attorneys say led the effort to “frame” Inman is now deceased and unable to directly defend his role in the case.

Earlier in 2023, the Georgia Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation voted to table until next year a resolution to compensate Devonia Inman $1,610,000 for his wrongful conviction. State Rep. Penny Houston of the 170th District was scheduled to bring House Resolution 70 for compensation of Devonia Inman before the State Senate Subcommittee. 

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.

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 needed more time to review the cases to see if full exoneration occurred. 

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. 

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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