But last month a judge in northern Georgia who heard Inman’s appeal dismissed his conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge found that evidence withheld by prosecutors strongly substantiated Inman’s allegations of innocence.

Discover‘Breakdown’ S04, Ep. 5: Devonia Inman gets a new day in court

Last week the attorney general declined to appeal the order. And on Monday, Cook County Superior Court’s chief judge Clayton Tomlinson signed an order dismissing the case and releasing Inman “as soon as possible”. That happened hours later.

“The state has assessed that it is not in the interests of justice to continue this case,” said the order drawn up by prosecutor Chase Studstill, who was out of office when Inman was prosecuted two decades ago.

“Devonia and his family are the definition of resilience,” said Atlanta attorney Jessica Gabel Cino, who has been fighting for Inman’s conviction since she was a law professor at Georgia State University. “They never gave up hope that one day he would be free and his legal department never gave up on him.”

Over the past several years, Atlanta-based law firm Troutman Pepper has agreed to represent Inman free of charge. Inman’s release on Monday marks the culmination of a number of the firm’s lawyers working for Inman.

“I am as happy as I can for Devonia and his family and that that day has finally come,” said Troutman partner Tom Reilly. “It’s long overdue, but it’s finally here.”

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Devonia Inman is hugged by his mother Dinah Ray as he leaves Augusta State Medical Prison on Monday after being released on an unjustified conviction after 23 years in prison. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Photo credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton @

Devonia Inman is hugged by his mother Dinah Ray as he leaves Augusta State Medical Prison on Monday after being released on an unjustified conviction after 23 years in prison.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)Label arrowsubtitle

Devonia Inman is hugged by his mother Dinah Ray as he leaves Augusta State Medical Prison on Monday after being released on an unjustified conviction after 23 years in prison. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Photo credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton @

Photo credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton @

Inman’s case, recorded during the fourth season of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Breakdown podcast in 2017, is exceptional. He was found guilty with no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and primarily based on testimony from four key witnesses, three of whom later retracted their testimony at the trial.

At the trial, the judge refused to provide Inman’s lawyers with testimony alleging that another man, Hercules Brown, told them he had committed the murder. (Hercules Brown, who had worked at Taco Bell, was not related to Donna Brown.)

A decade after Inman’s conviction, the Georgia Innocence Project found in the clerk’s office the makeshift mask that prosecutors said was worn by Brown’s killer. The GBI crime lab tested the mask for DNA and found a match: Hercules Brown.

Inman’s attorneys then filed for a new trial, but despite the new DNA evidence, a judge denied it. Inman’s attorneys appealed the ruling, but the Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear her and let the murder conviction stand.

Undeterred, Inman’s attorneys at Troutman Pepper appealed again, demanding that Inman’s conviction be overturned on the grounds that he was innocent. The attorney general tried to dismiss the latest appeal, but the state Supreme Court allowed it to continue.

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Devonia Inman hugs his mother Dinah Ray after she leaves Augusta State Medical Prison after serving 23 years in prison on an unjustified conviction. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Photo credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton @

Devonia Inman hugs his mother Dinah Ray after she leaves Augusta State Medical Prison after serving 23 years in prison on an unjustified conviction.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)Label arrowsubtitle

Devonia Inman hugs his mother Dinah Ray after she leaves Augusta State Medical Prison after serving 23 years in prison on an unjustified conviction. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Photo credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton @

Photo credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton @

In that extraordinary decision, David Nahmias, now the head of the court, said he regretted the court’s decision in 2014 not to hear Inman’s appeal.

Of the more than 1,500 murder cases that Nahmias claims to have checked as a judge, Inman’s case caused “the greatest concern that an innocent person will be convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment”.

A month ago, Chattooga County’s chief judge Kristina Cook Graham granted Inman a new trial.

She found that prosecutors had failed to provide Inman’s trial attorneys with evidence that could have been instrumental in his defense. This was information about the arrest of Hercules Brown in September 2000 for illegally possessing weapons and crack cocaine in front of an aristocratic supermarket.

In Brown’s car, police found a self-made mask similar to the one Inman wore when Donna Brown was murdered, according to prosecutors.

If information about the mask had been disclosed to Inman’s attorneys, “it would have been independent, reliable, and admissible evidence linking Hercules Brown to the murder, confirming the defense confusion theory,” wrote Graham.

Brown and another man would kill two people in an armed robbery of Bennett’s Grocery in Adel months after the murder of Donna Brown. Hercules Brown later pleaded guilty to these murders and is serving a life sentence without parole. He was never charged with Taco Bell’s murder of Donna Brown.

The story so far

September 19, 1998: Night manager Donna Brown is shot dead in an armed robbery in front of Taco Bell in Adel.

2001: Devonia Inman is sentenced to life in prison without parole in the trial of Brown’s murder.

2011: GBI crime lab finds DNA from saliva on a makeshift mask matching Hercules Brown, who worked at Taco Bell and was not related to the victim.

2014: Georgia Supreme Court dismissed Inman’s appeal after denied retrial on DNA evidence.

2018: Inman’s new attorneys file a lawsuit to overturn Inman’s conviction for actually being innocent. In response to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the Georgia Supreme Court questions Inman’s continued detention and a judge regrets that the Supreme Court refused to hear Inman’s appeal four years earlier.

November 2021: A judge in Northern Georgia finds that prosecutors have withheld critical evidence from Inman’s trial and orders a new trial.

December 20, 2021: Hours after Cook County prosecutors dismissed Inman’s murder charges, he walked out of Augusta state medical prison a free man.