Two Georgia men who spent 25 years in prison were freed last week after their murder convictions were overturned when podcasters and their attorneys unearthed new evidence proving their innocence.
Darrell Lee Clark and Cain Joshua Storey were teenagers when they went on trial in January 1998 in the shooting death of their friend Brian Bowling, 15, at a party in 1996, the nonprofit Georgia Innocence Project, also known as GIP, said in a statement.Floyd County police at first believed Storey’s account of the shooting, which was that he was in the room with Bowling when he died in an accident playing Russian roulette. Moments before the fatal gunshot, Bowling was on the phone with his girlfriend and had told her he was playing Russian roulette with a gun brought over by his best friend, Storey, the GIP said.
Storey was initially charged with manslaughter for providing his best friend with the weapon, according to the innocence project.
However, at the urging of Bowling’s distraught family, the GIP said, police upgraded Storey’s charge to murder days after having spoken to a party host, and they connected Clark to the case as a co-defendant, even though he had a corroborated alibi.
State prosecutors argued the two teens conspired to kill Bowling in an act of revenge, the GIP said.
“You never think something like that is going to happen to you,” Clark said in the statement. “Never would I have thought I would spend more than half my life in prison, especially for something I didn’t do. I’m just glad the truth finally came to light after 25 years. I’m so thankful for the Georgia Innocence Project and Proof Podcast for what they did. Without them, I would still be in prison.”
Clark and Storey were released Thursday after motions for a new trial were filed on their behalf, their attorneys said. The Rome Judicial Circuit district attorney’s office agreed that Clark’s conviction should be overturned and dismissed all charges against him, exonerating him in Bowling’s death, the GIP said.
“We are elated, thrilled that he is finally home after all this time. It’s even better that it’s in time for the holidays,” Clark’s attorney Meagan Hurley said. “Twenty-five years is an incredibly long time to spend incarcerated for a crime you didn’t commit.”
Hurley credited the Bowlings, who eventually changed their mind about how their loved one died.
“They went into this process with an open mind,” Hurley said. “They were willing to hear out what the podcasters had to say and, eventually, the attorneys and sort of re-evaluated what the evidence actually was and came to the conclusion that, frankly, the first time around, everybody got it wrong.”
A motion was filed arguing that Storey was innocent, his attorney, Luke Martin, said Monday.
Storey pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and a 10-year sentence of time served, Martin said. Because it was his first offense, Storey’s conviction was immediately wiped from the record, Martin said.
“He’s enjoying getting caught back up on the life that he missed,” Martin said. “He does feel vindicated. He’s been saying that he is innocent. He’s been telling everybody the truth of what happened for 25 years.”
The state’s case largely hinged on two key witnesses, according to the GIP. Podcasters Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis, who are behind the podcast “Proof,” began interviewing witnesses related to the case late last year.
The podcasters could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Their investigation found police coerced the party hostess, a key witness, to give false testimony about statements Clark and Storey were alleged to have made. The podcasters also found that a hearing-impaired man, who was also a key witness, had seen an unrelated but factually similar shooting in 1976 and was unable to separate the facts in that case from Bowling’s 1996 death, according to the GIP. It was learned that the hearing-impaired man never saw Clark run through Bowling’s yard when Bowling was shot, which was the prosecution’s theory.
Martin said that, for whatever reason, police back then were not interested in learning the truth about how Bowling died.
"An autopsy in the case would have solved it, yet they refused to get an autopsy," Martin said. "That autopsy would have shown this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound."
According to the GIP, to support their theory of intentional homicide, state prosecutors relied on the testimony of the coroner, who was not trained as a medical doctor.
The coroner testified that his “gut feeling” told him that the gunshot wound could not have been self-inflicted because it was not a close-contact wound, according to the GIP.
No one with the Floyd County Police Department could immediately be reached for comment Monday.
CORRECTION (Feb. 2, 2023, 4:36 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated whose conviction was wiped from the record. It was Cain Joshua Storey, not Luke Martin.