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Two Georgia men wrongfully convicted of murder seen for the first time since their release 25 years later

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For the first time in more than 25 years, Georgian men Darrell Lee Clark and Cain Joshua Storey will be home for Christmas, thanks to a true crime podcast that exposed their wrongful convictions for murder, and lawyers from Georgia Innocence Project.

Clark and Storey walked out of Floyd County Jail as free men on Thursday after the Rome Judicial Circuit Prosecutor’s Office agreed that their convictions in the 1996 shooting death of a friend should be overturned. They were embraced by tearful friends and family members who gathered to meet them.

“You never think something like this is going to happen to you,” Lee Clark said in a statement. “I never thought I would spend more than half my life in prison, especially for something I didn’t do. I’m just glad the truth has finally come out after 25 years. I’m so grateful to the Georgia Innocence Project and Proof Podcast for what they’ve done. Without them, I’d still be in jail.”

Attorneys for the Georgia Innocence Project said Clark’s exoneration was obtained after he filed new evidence of police misconduct in the law enforcement investigation into the 1996 death of 15-year-old Brian Bowling.

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Lee Clark, left, and Joseph Storey, right, were released from prison on Thursday after serving 25 years for a murder they did not commit. Their release was secured after the Proof podcast uncovered new evidence in their case.
(Courtesy of Fox 5 Atlanta)

On October 18, 1996, Bowling was hanging out with his best friend, Cain Joshua Storey, in his parents’ trailer. He was on the phone with his girlfriend when he told her they were playing Russian roulette with a gun brought by Storey. The stupid and dangerous game ended tragically. Bowling pulled the trigger on the gun, sending a bullet to his head and killing him.

Investigators initially believed Storey’s account of the crash. He was charged with manslaughter. But in the months that followed, police reopened the investigation at the request of Bowling’s distraught family, the Georgia Innocence Project said.

During their investigation, they interviewed a woman who lived near the Bowling Alley house. She told investigators Storey and Clark came to a party she threw a few months after the shooting. She alleged that at her party, the 17-year-old couple told her they had planned Bowling’s murder because he knew too much about an earlier robbery Storey and Clark had committed.

After further investigation, Storey’s manslaughter charge was changed to murder and Clark was arrested as a co-conspirator, despite Clark having a corroborated alibi. Police relied on the testimony of a hearing-impaired witness who was in another room of the Bowlings home at the time of the shooting. They claimed the witness identified Clark from a series of photos as someone he saw running around the backyard that night. No one else at the Bowlings home reported seeing anyone outside.

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Cain Joshua Storey gives an interview to FOX 5 Atlanta after his release from prison.  Storey was present when Brian Bowling, 15, committed suicide on October 18, 1996.

Cain Joshua Storey gives an interview to FOX 5 Atlanta after his release from prison. Storey was present when Brian Bowling, 15, committed suicide on October 18, 1996.
(Courtesy of Fox 5 Atlanta)

At trial, the state built its case on the party hostess’ testimony that the boys had conspired to kill Bowling in an act of revenge, and the witness’ identification of Clark fleeing the house.

Deaf and hard of hearing witness Charlie Childers had difficulty communicating with the court. He repeated several times that Storey was present in the house the night of the shooting, but also said that a person he called “Darrell” was not present in the courtroom, even though Clark was seated at the defense table. Childers told the court, through an interpreter, that “Darrell” was a “black boy” with “dark hair” who had a wife, according to FOX 5 Atlanta. The description didn’t match Clark, who goes by his middle name, Lee, is white and single and has brown hair.

The state also heard testimony from the county coroner, who had no formal medical training, as no autopsy was performed on Bowling’s body. The coroner told the court he had a “feel” the gunshot wound was not self-inflicted as it was not a close contact injury.

Despite the flimsy evidence and Clark’s alibi, the trial ended within a week and both men were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

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Lee Clark was wrongfully imprisoned for over 25 years after being convicted of a murder he did not commit.

Lee Clark was wrongfully imprisoned for over 25 years after being convicted of a murder he did not commit.
(Courtesy of FOX 5 Atlanta)

It wasn’t until 2021, more than two decades later, that the facts of the case were revisited by Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis on their Proof podcast.

Simpson and Davis re-examined key trial witnesses. They found a better interpreter for Childers, who revealed he never told police he saw Clark the night of the shooting. Most of his testimony concerned an unrelated crime he had witnessed a decade earlier.

The Proof podcast hosts also spoke to the party hostess, who backtracked on her testimony and said she was coerced by police, who allegedly threatened to take her children away and demanded sexual favors from her . A new witness interviewed on the podcast corroborated his fear of police reprisals.

With this new evidence in hand, lead attorney Christina Cribbs and lead attorney Meagan Hurley of the Georgia Innocence Project secured a new trial for Clark. During Thursday’s hearing, the district attorney and a superior court judge agreed that Clark should be cleared of all charges, FOX 5 reported.

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“We are thrilled to see Lee and his family finally get the long-awaited justice. This would not have been possible without the support of the Bowling family and the district attorney’s office who were ready to take an objective new look at an old deal.” Cribbs said. “The Bowling family suffered a great loss when Brian passed away. Their strength, their openness, their willingness to question information presented as ‘facts’ and their pursuit of the truth are inspiring.”

“Official misconduct was certainly a contributing factor in Lee’s case, as it was in over 50% of wrongful conviction cases. What we should take away from this is that absolute power, without proper checks and balances , lets the possibility of error ripen Appropriate oversight, coupled with educational initiatives designed to prevent and correct wrongful convictions, is essential,” Hurley said. “Prosecutors have a duty to ensure that justice is served in their business, and this must include a commitment to the principles of integrity, fairness and accountability. It is imperative that they are willing to take corrective action when they see injustice, including when injustice is perpetrated by the police.”

The judge reduced Storey’s charge to the original charge of manslaughter, which carried a 10-year sentence, and awarded him credit for time served.

The two men returned home in time for the Christmas holidays.

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“It’s a real shock. I’ve been behind prison walls for 25 years and I’ve come out and seen how the world has changed,” Clark told Fox 5.

His father, Glen Clark, was grateful to God that justice had finally been served.

“Let me tell you something. The Lord is shining, he is shining today,” he said.

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