Two Georgia men who had been wrongfully imprisoned for more than two decades on a murder conviction were freed last week thanks to evidence uncovered by true crime podcasters that proved their innocence.
Darrell Lee Clark and Cain Joshua Storey were released from the Floyd County Jail in Rome after serving 25 years behind bars for a 1998 conviction that their attorneys claim there was police misconduct during the initial investigation in 1996, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
In 2021, Jacinda Davis and Susan Simpson, hosts of the true-crime podcast “Proof,” began re-interviewing witnesses in the case, two of whose statements and testimonies heavily influenced the State to later sentence them to life in prison in connection with the shooting death of 15-year-old Brian Bowling.
“You never think something like that is going to happen to you,” Clark said in the GIP 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.”
In 1996, Clark and Storey, both 17, were arrested after Bowling died from a gunshot wound to the head he sustained in his bedroom. He was on the phone with his girlfriend when the shot rang out.
Just moments before Bowling’s death, he had told his girlfriend that he was playing Russian Roulette with a gun brought over by his best friend, Cain Joshua Storey, who was in the room when the shooting happened, according to the GIP statement.
Though authorities initially believed Storey’s claim that the shooting was accidental, police charged him with manslaughter and began investigating the death as a homicide months later, at the urging of Bowling’s distraught family.
During the investigation, police interviewed a woman who lived near the Bowling’s home. She allegedly told police that she had hosted a party months after Bowling’s death and that both Clark and Storey were there. According to the GIP statement, she claimed the teenagers explained how they had planned Bowling’s murder because he knew too much about a previous theft Storey and Clark had committed.
Days after the interview, police upgraded Storey’s charge from manslaughter to murder and arrested Clark, calling him a co-conspirator despite the fact that he had a corroborated alibi, officials said.
To strengthen their case, three days after Clark’s arrest, police allegedly then spoke to a hearing and speech-impaired witness who’d been in a different room in the Bowlings’ home when the shooting happened.
Police alleged the man identified Clark from a photo lineup as a boy he saw running through the Bowling’s yard on the night of the shooting. However, none of the other people present at the Bowling home on the night of the incident reported seeing anyone outside, according to the GIP.
In the 1998 trial, aside from using the key witnesses to prove their case against Clark and Storey, the GIP said that the State relied on the testimony of the coroner, who was not trained as a medical doctor and did not perform an autopsy on Bowling’s body.
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.
The teenagers were found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life in prison after the week-long trial.
They had no idea that in 2021, ruthless true-crime podcasters would re-examine the case that would eventually lead to their freedom.
Proof hosts Davis and Simpson learned that police coerced the party hostess into falsely stating that Storey and Clark planned to murder Bowling in an act of revenge. She claimed that the police threatened to take her children away if she didn’t comply with their demands.
Their investigation also found that the State’s second key-witness had been misunderstood at trial and testified about an “unrelated, factually similar shooting” that he had witnessed 1976, the GIP states.
“It took us a long time to talk to both of those witnesses,” Davis told CNN. “The podcast was happening in almost real time as an investigation. When we finally found and were able to talk to those two witnesses, it really solidified that both of these guys had been wrongly convicted.”
In September, Clark’s attorneys filed motions pleading for a new trial alleging his conviction had been based on false evidence and police coercion, CNN reports.
Court officials later agreed that Clark’s conviction should be overturned and quickly dismissed all underlying charges against Clark.
Storey was also exonerated of all murder charges after accepting a plea deal for involuntary manslaughter, and a 10-year sentence with time served, the outlet reports. He also admitted to bringing the gun to Bowling’s house.
Now a free man, Clark told the Georgia Innocence Project that with plenty of family support, he plans to focus on readjusting and healing after spending his entire adult life behind bars for a crime that never happened.