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Cleared in killing, man leaves local prison after decades behind bars

Devonia Inman walked out of Augusta State Medical Prison and into the arms of family in time to...
Devonia 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.(WRDW)
Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 5:52 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - On Monday, Devonia 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.

His release came a month after a Superior Court judge granted Inman’s petition for habeas corpus relief.

The Alapaha Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss all underlying charges against Inman, officially exonerating him of the 1998 Taco Bell murder.

“I spent 23 years behind bars for something I didn’t do,” said Inman, according to a news release from the Georgia Innocence Project and his lawyers. “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.”

Inman is represented by a team of lawyers from the Atlanta office of Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, including Tom Reilly, Tiffany Bracewell, Kasia Hebda and Alan Long, who devoted over five years to his case free of charge.

Inman had been accused in the 1998 murder of the manager of a Taco Bell in Adel. The manager was robbed and shot in the parking lot of the restaurant, with the killer taking $1,700 and the victim’s car.

Devonia Inman walked out of Augusta State Medical Prison and into the arms of family in time to...
Devonia 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.(WRDW)

Police later found the car abandoned nearby with a distinctive homemade ski mask inside.

At Inman’s death penalty trial in 2001, the state suggested he wore the ski mask as he shot and killed the victim. Inman’s attorneys tried to call witnesses to present evidence that another man had actually committed and admitted to the murder.

The judge at Inman’s trial refused to allow the jury to hear the testimony about that man, and the prosecutor asserted there was not “one scintilla of evidence” linking that man to the Taco Bell murder.

Inman was convicted of armed robbery and malice murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Years after trial, the Georgia Innocence Project secured DNA testing on the ski mask used in the Taco Bell murder and found only the other man’s DNA, not Inman’s, on the mask.

Furthermore, of the four critical witnesses against Inman, three recanted their testimony years ago.

Inman tried to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the appeal.

Devonia Inman walked out of Augusta State Medical Prison and into the arms of family in time to...
Devonia 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.(WRDW)

With support from the Georgia Innocence Project, attorney Jessica Cino and several law students continued to investigate and raise awareness about the injustices in Inman’s case. The case was the subject of podcasts and the premiere episode of the true-crime TV series, “It Couldn’t Happen Here.”

After years of legal proceedings, attorneys from Troutman Pepper in June presented evidence of innocence and constitutional violations in a habeas hearing before Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Kristina Cook Graham.

Graham granted Inman’s habeas corpus petition, ordering the state to give him a new trial.

She determined Inman’s constitutional rights were violated, including by the prosecution’s failure to disclose evidence suggesting the other man committed the crime.

The attorney general waited out the 30-day appeal window, which closed on Thursday, and ultimately decided not to appeal.

The case reverted to the local district attorney to decide whether to re-prosecute Inman. The DA filed a motion to dismiss the underlying charges, which Chief Judge Clayton Tomlinson granted Monday morning.

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