After 25 years of wrongful imprisonment, two Georgia men are freed after newly discovered evidence exonerates them on murder charges
After spending 25 years in prison on murder convictions related to the 1996 death of their friend, two Georgia men were exonerated this week after new evidence revealed on a true crime podcast last year proved their innocence. their lawyers said.
Darrell Lee Clark and co-defendant Kane Joshua Storey were both 17 when they were arrested for their alleged involvement in the death of 15-year-old Brian Bowling.
He died of a gunshot wound to the head in his family’s mobile home on Oct. 18, 1996, according to Clark’s attorneys, Christina Cribbs and Megan Hurley, of the nonprofit Georgia Innocence Project.
Moments before the gun was fired, Bowling was on the phone with his girlfriend and told her he was playing Russian roulette with a gun that had been brought to his home by Storey, who was in the room at the time of the shooting. , according to a news release from the Georgia Innocence Project.
Storey was charged with manslaughter, but months later police opened a homicide investigation and interviewed two witnesses whose statements led authorities to link Clark to Bowling’s death, the Georgia Innocence Project said.
“Despite the circumstances strongly indicating that Bowling accidentally shot himself in the head, at the urging of Bowling’s family members, police later began investigating the death as a homicide,” according to a complaint filed by Clark’s attorneys, seeking new process.
The two teenagers were jailed for life after being convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder following a week-long trial in 1998.
Clark’s acquittal came a year and a half after investigative podcasters Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis began investigating his case on their 2021 true-crime podcast Proof and interviewed two of the state’s key witnesses.
Through their investigation, new evidence emerged that “disproved the state’s theory of Clark’s involvement” in Bowling’s death, and the podcasters flagged his case to the Georgia Innocence Project, according to its news release.
The first witness, a woman who lives near Bowling’s home, was interviewed by police who said the teenagers admitted they “planned to kill Bowling because he knew too much about a previous burglary that Storey and Clark had committed ,” according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
Based on her testimony, Storey was charged with murder and Clark was arrested as a co-conspirator, even though he had a corroborated alibi, saying he was home the night of the shooting, which was supported by two witnesses, according to Clark’s motion for a new trial period.
But the woman revealed on the podcast that police coerced her into giving false statements and threatened to take her children away if she didn’t comply, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
Police say the other witness, a man who was in a different room from Bowling’s home at the time of the shooting, identified Clark from a photo lineup as the person he saw running across the yard the night Bowling was shot. the news release said.
It was revealed on the podcast that the man’s testimony was based on an “unrelated, factually similar shooting” he witnessed in 1976, and he never identified Clark as the individual in the yard, nor did he see anyone in the yard the night of the shooting, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
Davis told CNN in an interview that when she and Simpson began their investigation, they didn’t expect anything to come of it, but as they interviewed more people, it was “clear it just wasn’t working.”
“It took us a long time to talk to both witnesses. The podcast was happening in almost real time as an investigation. When we finally found and were able to talk to those two witnesses, it really solidified that they were both wrongfully convicted,” Davis said.
Clark’s lawyers filed pleas in September to challenge the wrongful conviction and request a new trial, citing new information that proved his conviction was based on false evidence and coercion, Hurley told CNN.
Clark, now 43, was released from the Floyd County Jail Thursday after the Rome Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office and Floyd County Superior Court Judge John Neidrach agreed that the conviction should be thrown out and all underlying charges against him dismissed after the evidence in the case was reviewed.
Storey, who admitted to bringing the gun to Bowling’s home, was also released after accepting a plea deal for manslaughter and a 10-year sentence with time served after serving 25 years in prison. He was also acquitted of murder charges.
Storey said in an interview with CNN that he was afraid to go to sleep the first night after he was released, in case he woke up and “realized it was all a dream.”
“It was surreal to say the least,” he added. “I believe it will be great. Step by Step. I have never let my mind be locked in all these years.”
“You never think something like this will happen to you,” Lee Clark said in a statement released by the Georgia Innocence Project. “I never thought I would spend more than half my life in prison, especially for something I didn’t do.”
Clark’s father, Glenn Clark, said in an interview with CNN: “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time. 25 years. My son was wrongly accused and I knew it all these years. It’s hard for me to live with.”
“I watched my son go to prison as a child, I watched him go through prison, I watched him come out as a man. He became a man in prison,” he added.
Clark is living with his family at their Floyd County home for the foreseeable future while he focuses on readjusting to life outside of prison and rebuilding his life, he told CNN. Storey said he has also returned to Floyd County, with plans to go back to school and get a job.
Clark said Judge Neidrach apologized on behalf of the state of Georgia and Floyd County this week during this week’s court hearing, which was an important step toward healing.
“It really touched my heart because I lived in corruption for so long and it meant a lot for someone to admit they were wrong,” he told CNN.
The Georgia Innocence Project will work to support Clark during his transition and connect him with resources, and an in-person fundraiser open to the public for donations to Clark and his family has been set up on the MightyCause platform, Hurley said.
“It’s probably going to take some time for him to really realize that he’s free and he doesn’t have to go back behind prison walls because he’s spent most of his life behind them,” Hurley said.
“More than anything, he’s looking forward to spending time with his family and rebuilding some of those relationships that, frankly, he was cut off from at the age of 17,” she added.
The acquittals of the two men were the culmination of cooperation between Clark, Storey and his defense attorney, as well as the Bowling family, who were willing to “look objectively at this case and re-evaluate some of the things they’ve been told in the past,” Hurley said.
Davis was in the courtroom during Clark and Storey’s hearing this week and said she was still “in shock” and a huge relief for both men.
“Finally, my sympathies go out to Brian Bowling’s family, who have also been incredibly kind and supportive. It’s really rare for a victim’s family to support convictions being overturned,” Davis said.
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