Two Georgia men were exonerated this week after new evidence unearthed in a true crime podcast last year proved their innocence, after serving 25 years in prison on murder convictions for the shooting death of their friend in 1996, their lawyers say.
Darrell Lee Clark and his colleague Cain Joshua Storey were 17 years old when they were arrested for 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 October 18, 1996, according to Clark’s attorneys Christina Cribbs and Meagan Hurley of the nonprofit Georgia Innocence Project.
Calling his girlfriend on the phone a few minutes before the gun went off, Bowling told her that he was playing Russian roulette with the gun brought to his house by Storey, who was in the room at the time of the shooting. , according to a report from the Georgia Innocence Project.
The Georgia Innocence Project charged Storey with manslaughter, but months later, police began investigating the death as a homicide and interviewed two witnesses, whose testimonies led authorities to link Clark to Bowling’s death, the Georgia Innocence Project said.
According to a motion by Clark’s lawyers seeking a new trial, “Despite circumstances that strongly suggest that Bowling accidentally shot himself in the head at the insistence of Bowling’s family members, police subsequently began investigating the death as a murder.”
The two teenagers were sentenced to life in prison in 1998 after being found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder after a week-long trial.
Clark’s exoneration comes a year and a half after investigative podcasters Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis began investigating her case on their Proof true-crime podcast in 2021 and interviewed two of the state’s key witnesses.
Their investigations have uncovered new evidence that “shatters the state’s theory of Clark’s role” in Bowling’s death, and podcasters have pointed their case to the Georgia Innocence Project, according to the news release.
The first witness, a woman who lived near Bowling’s home, was questioned by police and claimed that the teenagers admitted that they “planned the Bowling murder because she knew so much about a previous theft committed by Storey and Clark.” Georgia Innocence Project.
According to his testimony, Storey was charged with murder, and Clark was arrested as co-conspirator, despite having a substantiated alibi, stating that he was at home on the night of the shooting, supported by two witnesses, according to a recent motion by Clark. Attempt.
But according to the Georgia Project of Innocence, the woman who appeared on the podcast revealed that the police forced her to make false statements and threatened to take her children from her if she didn’t comply.
Police claimed that the other witness, who was in a different room of Bowlings’ home at the time of the shooting, identified Clark from a photo series as the person they saw running in the garden the night Bowling was shot. broadcast said.
The podcast revealed that the man’s testimony was based on an “unrelated, factually similar gunfight” he witnessed in 1976, and he never identified Clark as the person in the garden and did not witness anyone in the garden that night. Shot according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
Davis told CNN in an interview that when he and Simpson began the investigation, they didn’t expect anything to come of this, but when they interviewed more people, “it was clear that they weren’t getting together.”
“It took us a long time to talk to both of these witnesses. The podcast was happening in near real time as an investigation. When we were finally able to locate and speak to these two witnesses, it really cemented that both of these men were wrongly convicted, Davis said.
Hurley told CNN that Clark’s lawyers filed petitions in September to appeal a wrongful conviction and request a new hearing, citing new information that proves his conviction was based on false evidence and coercion.
Clark, now 43, was released from Floyd County Prison on Thursday after the Rome Judicial Circuit District Attorney and Floyd County Superior Court Justice John Neidrach agreed to have his conviction quashed and to dismiss all basic charges against him after the evidence in the case was re-examined. .
Storey, who admitted to bringing a gun to Bowling’s home, was released after accepting a plea bargain for manslaughter and a 10-year sentence after serving 25 years. He was also acquitted of murder charges.
Storey told CNN in an interview that he was afraid to go to sleep the first night after his release that he might wake up and “realize it was all a dream.”
“It was surreal to say the least,” he added. “I believe it will be great. Step by step. I’ve never let my mind get locked up in all these years anyway.”
“You would never think something like this would happen to you,” Lee Clark said in a statement released by the Georgia Innocence Project. “I never thought I’d spend more than half my life in jail for something I didn’t particularly do.”
Clark’s father, Glen Clark, told CNN in an interview, “I’ve been waiting for this day for so long. 25 years. My son was wrongfully accused and I’ve known it all these years. It’s hard for me to live with that.”
“I watched my son go to jail as a kid, I watched him get out of prison, I watched him get out as a man. He became a man in prison,” he added.
Clark is living with his family in their Floyd County home for the foreseeable future as he focuses on re-adjusting to life outside of prison and rebuilding his life, he told CNN. Storey also said he moved back to Floyd County with plans to go back to school and find a job.
Clark said Judge Neidrach apologized on behalf of the state of Georgia and Floyd County at this week’s court hearing, which was an important step towards recovery.
“This really touched my heart because I’ve been living in corruption for so long, and it meant a lot for someone to admit that it was wrong,” he told CNN.
Hurley said the Georgia Innocence Project will work to support and resource Clark during the transition, and a personal, public fundraising event is held on the MightyCause platform for donations to Clark and his family.
“It’s probably going to take some time before he really likes that he’s free and doesn’t have to go back behind the prison walls, because he’s spent most of his life behind the walls,” Hurley said.
“More than anything else, he looks forward to spending time with his family and frankly re-establishing some of the relationships he broke off at age 17,” he added.
The exoneration of both men was the culmination of the collaboration between Clark, Storey, and the defense team and the Bowling family, who were willing to “look at this case objectively and reevaluate some of the things that had been told to them.” past,” said Hurley.
Davis was in the courtroom during Clark and Storey’s trial this week and said he was still “in shock” and felt a great relief for both men.
“Ultimately, I also feel Brian Bowling’s family, who have been incredibly kind and supportive. “It’s very rare for the victim’s family to support convictions,” Davis said.