Jun. 29—SUMMERVILLE — In 2001, Devonia Tyrone Inman was convicted of killing a woman in Adel. Now a superior court judge in Chattooga County has filed an order saying she believes another convicted criminal committed the crime.
Inman was convicted of the September 1998 murder of Donna Brown, the manager of a Taco Bell in Adel. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole and remains in Hays State Prison.
Monday, Katrina Cook Graham, chief judge of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, issued an "order drawing adverse inference" naming another state inmate as the killer.
The inmate implicated by the judge was an employee at the Taco Bell; however, the trial court would not allow the jury to hear that and would not allow Inman to argue that the suspect now named by the judge was, in fact, the guilty party, the order showed.
The testimony of three would-be witnesses which Inman's lawyer wanted to call was also denied by the trial court, according to appeals court documents.
A decade later, DNA evidence taken from a makeshift ski mask found in Donna Brown's car matched the inmate whom Judge Graham named, the order said.
A key portion of Judge Graham's order involves testimony by the new suspect that never occurred in open court. The inmate was sentenced to life in prison for an unrelated double murder in Adel on Nov. 10, 2000.
On July 22, 2019, the Chattooga County Superior Court ordered the implicated inmate to give testimony via video conferencing in Donna Brown's death, the order said. "At the noticed date and time, (he) failed and refused to appear," according to Graham's order.
Graham said in her order that the inmate's "willingness to face contempt and disciplinary action rather than provide testimony — or even invoke his Fifth Amendment rights — further justifies this Court drawing an adverse inference here," Graham said in the order.
An "adverse inference" is a legal inference adverse to the concerned party made from that party's silence or the absence of requested evidence, according to uslegal.com.
"The Court ... draws an adverse inference as the finder of fact in this proceeding that (the inmate) committed the murder of Donna Brown," the order concludes.
Thomas E. Reilly, Inman's attorney, said he will file a petition for habeas corpus seeking a new trial. He said that decision from the judge could come in the fall.
Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.