True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here’s a compelling look at how true crime affects small towns. In many rural areas, local law enforcement agencies are not used to dealing with violent crime and homicides because they are simply not that common. As a result, killers sometimes run free, or in the case of the show’s first episode, the wrong man could end up behind bars.
In the series premiere, host Hilarie Burton visits Morgan Adel, Georgia to investigate a devastating rampage that occurred more than 20 years ago that resulted in the death of four people and the possible imprisonment of an innocent man.
Adel is a small town with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. Southern hospitality is a must. There are flower festivals and a quaint street with family-run mom-and-pop shows. Nobility is the kind of place everyone knows each other, and maintaining a close community is important to the locals.
When four brutal murders occurred in 1998 and 2000, it shook the whole city. The residents never had a chance to recover from the effects of this carnage.
True Detective Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here Episode 1 Summary: Donna Brown’s Murder
It all started in the fall of 1998 when single mother Donna Brown was shot almost up close in the Taco Bell parking lot. Donna had worked long hours and left the shop alone after it closed. She was attacked and killed almost immediately. Devonia Inman, a black teenager with a history of clashes with police, was targeted for the murder almost immediately.
Unfortunately for Devonia, he had almost every chance against himself. In this episode, Hilarie spends time chatting with Devonia’s family, including his family and son. Based on what we find out, Devonia had a violent streak when his girlfriend testified that he was abusive. But there was no real evidence linking him to Donna’s murder.
It is still unclear why police believed Devonia killed Donna. It seems like a likely mix of Racial Profiling and Devonia surrounding yourself with the wrong people. Then a messenger answered to refer to Devonia as a murderer, but her statement changed.
She later even retracted her testimony in a letter. Similarly, a prison head contacted law enforcement to say Devonia had been in prison, but again, his testimony was not the best, and he too later retracted. Devonia has protested his innocence since the day he was arrested. Even so, he has been in prison for more than two decades. We will return to this point below.
After Devonia’s arrest, things relaxed in Adel for a while, until Shailesh Patel was found murdered and beaten up with a television set in his brother-in-law’s house in April 2000. Unlike Donna’s case, Shailesh’s killer has never been found and the case is still considered unsolved.
Soon seven months later, in November 2000, his death was overshadowed by a gruesome double homicide. Someone murdered Caroll Bennet, a popular grocer, and his associate, Rebecca Browning. This murder horrified a community already shaken and saddened by the ongoing bloodshed.
True Detective Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here Episode 1 Recap: Hercules Brown
For the double homicide, law enforcement officials believed Hercules Brown was the perpetrator. He pleaded guilty to their murders in order to avoid the death penalty and is currently serving a life sentence. But here it gets even crazier.
Hercules Brown was working at the same Taco Bell as Donna Brown at the same time, often working on top shifts.
Devonia reached out to the Georgia Innocence Project, and they accepted his case as there was increasing evidence that he was likely innocent. The biggest break in the case came when police returned Donna’s car to her family and they found a ski mask in it that the police had somehow missed.
Since the ski mask was never tested, was the GIP able to do a DNA test and guess who matches the DNA? Yes. Hercules brown.
One would think that this breakthrough, along with the unreliable witnesses and revocable statements, would be enough to bring Devonia to a new trial. Still, the court denied the motion, claiming the ski mask did not prove Devonia was absent, only claiming that Hercules may have been involved as well. This contradicted the court’s original story that Devonia murdered Donna Brown alone.
While Hilarie is speaking to his family, it is devastating to hear how they thought the DNA would mean Devonia would be released from prison. Unfortunately, Devonia is still behind bars to this day. There is hope. In July 2021, a new judge was appointed to review the case and examine Hercules Brown’s evidence.
New episodes of True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here will air on SundanceTV on Thursdays at 10 / 9c.