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After 25 years of wrongful imprisonment, 2 Georgian men freed after newly discovered evidence cleared them of murder charges

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CNN

After spending 25 years in prison for murder convictions linked to the shooting death of their friend in 1996, two Georgian men were exonerated this week, after new evidence uncovered in a true crime podcast last year proved their innocence, their lawyers said.

Darrell Lee Clark and his co-defendant Cain Joshua Storey were 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 attorneys Christina Cribbs and Meagan 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, which was brought to his home by Storey, who was in the room at the time of the shooting. , according to a press release from the Georgia Innocence Project.

Storey was charged with manslaughter, but months later police began investigating the death as a homicide and interviewed two witnesses whose statements led authorities to link Clark to Bowling’s death, said the Georgia Innocence Project.

“Despite the circumstances, which strongly indicated that Bowling had accidentally shot himself in the head, at the request of members of Bowling’s family, police subsequently began to investigate the death as a homicide,” according to a petition. filed by Clark’s attorneys, asking for a new trial.

The two teenagers were sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, following a week-long trial in 1998.

Clark’s exoneration came a year and a half after investigative podcasters Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis began reviewing his case on their Proof true crime podcast in 2021 and interviewed two of the state’s key witnesses.

Through their investigation, new evidence emerged that “shattered the state’s theory of Clark’s involvement” in Bowling’s death and the podcasters reported his case to the Georgia Innocence Project, according to his press release.

The first witness, a woman who lived near Bowling’s home, was interviewed by police, who said she alleged the teenagers confessed that they ‘planned Bowling’s murder because he knew too much. about an earlier robbery that Storey and Clark committed,” according to the Georgia Innocence Project.

Based on his testimony, Storey was charged with murder and Clark was arrested as a co-conspirator despite a corroborated alibi, stating he was at home the night of the shooting, which was supported by two witnesses, per Clark’s request for a retest.

But the woman revealed in the podcast that police coerced her into making false statements and threatened to take her children away from her if she did not comply, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.

Darrell Lee Clark was released from the Floyd County Jail on Thursday after the Rome Judicial District Attorney's Office and Floyd County Superior Court Judge John Neidrach agreed that his conviction should be overturned.

Police say the other witness, a man who was in another room of the Bowlings home at the time of the shooting, identified Clark from a series of photos as the person he saw running in the yard the night Bowling was shot, the news release said.

It was discovered in the podcast that the man’s testimony was based on an “unrelated and factually similar shooting” he witnessed in 1976, and he never identified Clark as the individual in court, and he never saw anyone in the yard at night. of the shooting, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.

Davis told CNN in an interview when she and Simpson began their investigation, they didn’t expect anything to come out of it, but as they interviewed more people, it was “clear that it didn’t. just didn’t add up.”

“It took us a long time to talk to these two witnesses. The podcast was happening almost in real time like an investigation. When we finally found and were able to speak to these two witnesses, it really confirmed that these two guys had been wrongfully convicted,” Davis said.

Clark’s attorneys filed closing arguments in September challenging a wrongful conviction and seeking a new trial, citing new information proving his conviction was based on false evidence and coercion, Hurley told CNN.

Clark, now 43, was released from the Floyd County Jail on Thursday after the Rome Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office and Floyd County Superior Court Judge John Neidrach agreed that the conviction was to be overturned and all underlying charges against him dismissed, after the evidence in the case was re-examined. .

Storey, who admitted bringing the gun to Bowling’s home, was also released after accepting a manslaughter plea deal and a 10-year sentence with time served, after serving 25 years in prison. He was also cleared of the murder charges.

Storey told CNN in an interview that he was afraid to fall asleep the first night after his release in case he woke up and “realized it was all just a dream.”

“It has been surreal to say the least,” he added. “I think it’s going to be great. One step after another. I never allowed my mind to be locked up all these years anyway.

“You never think something like this is going to 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, Glen Clark, told CNN in an interview, “I’ve been waiting for this day for a very, very long time. 25 years. My son was wrongly accused, and I knew it all these years. It’s hard for me to live with that. »

“I saw my son go to prison when he was a child, I saw him go through prison, I saw him come out as a man. He became a man in prison,” he said. added.

Clark lives with his family in their Floyd County home for the foreseeable future as he focuses on rehabilitating to life outside prison and rebuilding his life, he told CNN. Storey said he also returned to Floyd County, intending to return to school and find a job.

Clark said Judge Neidrach apologized on behalf of the State of Georgia and Floyd County this week during the court hearing this week, which was an important step toward healing.

“It really touched my heart, because I had lived in corruption for so long, and it meant a lot that someone recognized this evil,” he told CNN.

The Georgia Innocence Project will work to support Clark through his transition and connect him to resources, and a personal fundraiser has been held on the MightyCause platform, open to the public for donations to Clark and his family, Hurley said.

“It’s probably going to take a while to really understand 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. .

After his release, Clark lives with his family in their Floyd County home for the foreseeable future as he focuses on rehabilitating to life outside of prison and rebuilding his life.

“More than anything, he looks forward to spending time with his family and rebuilding some of those relationships that he was, frankly, ripped from at the age of 17,” she added.

The exonerations of the two men were the culmination of a collaboration between Clark, Storey and his defense team, as well as the Bowling family, who were willing to take an “objective look at this case and re-evaluate some of the things that are between them.” have been said 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 felt huge relief for the two men.

“At the end of the day, I also feel for Brian Bowling’s family who have also been incredibly kind and supportive. It’s truly rare for the victim’s family to support the overturning of convictions,” Davis said.

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