Two Wrongly Convicted Georgia Men Freed After 25 Years In Prison For Crime That Never Happened

Criminal Justice System
Two Wrongly Convicted Georgia Men Freed After 25 Years In Prison For Crime That Never Happened

Lee Clark (right) embraces family and friends immediately after his release from Floyd County Jail.

Georgia Innocence Project

On one night in 1996, in Rome, Georgia, 15-year-old Brian Bowling was talking on the phone to his girlfriend, telling her about how his friend Cain Joshua Storey had brought over his father's gun and he was playing Russian roulette with it. Moments later, while he was still on the phone, the gun went off. Bowling died by the next morning in the hospital.

Police were going to charge Storey with manslaughter — until several months later when they interviewed a woman who had recently hosted a party attended by story and his friend Darrell Lee Clark, who told them that she heard the two of them say they had plotted Bowling's murder in order to cover up a theft they had committed.

Then they interviewed a hearing-and-speech impaired man who had been in the Bowling's home when the shooting had occurred and had reportedly seen a boy running from the yard that night. With the help of an interpreter, he picked Darrell Lee Clark out of a line-up. Clark, although he had a corroborated alibi for that evening, was arrested and charged, as was Storey.

By 1998, after a week long trial, based on this evidence along with the no-medical-degree-having coroner's "gut feeling" that the wound was not self-inflicted, the two boys were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

They were both meant to stay in prison until they died — but an investigation of the crime by the Proof podcast changed their fate.

You see, all was not at all what it seemed. As it turned out, the police had actually coerced the party hostess into giving false statements and told her that if she did not tell them what they wanted to hear, they would take her children away. It also revealed that the other witness had been misunderstood by both police and the court.

"In 1976, the man had witnessed an unrelated, factually similar shooting and he was unable to effectively separate the facts of that case from the circumstances surrounding Bowling’s 1996 shooting death." the Georgia Innocence Project reported. "In fact, the man never identified Clark as having run through the Bowling’s yard when Bowling was shot, as he had never observed any boy outside in the first place."

Unfortunately for them, Georgia is one of the few states that does not offer any monetary compensation to the wrongly incarcerated.

To summarize, these men spent 25 years in prison for a crime they did not commit, until podcasters who are not funded by our taxes undid the damage done by the police and prosecutors, who are paid by our taxes, actually bothered to investigate the crime and prove that the men were innocent of the charges against them. They will get nothing to compensate them for the years stolen from them.

This shit has to be a bigger deal. It just has to be. Those police officers stole the lives of two 17-year-old boys — years when they could have gone to college, developed their careers, fallen in love, started families, etc. etc. And that's all they get. They don't get a do-over, they don't get to go back and have their 20s and their 30s. How is that not a crime? How is that not unlawful imprisonment? Why do we allow police officers to do this and continue to walk around for the rest of their lives like they're any better than Ariel Castro or Josef Fritzl or any other criminals who kept innocent people locked up against their will?

Especially, you know, considering how very proud so much of our country is about how terrible our prisons are — how casually so many people make "don't drop the soap" jokes. We know damn well when we send people to prison in the United States that we are not just sentencing them to the psychological torture of incarceration but very likely to both physical and sexual abuse, especially if they are teenagers who aren't even out of high school yet.

Why are we not more careful about stealing people's entire lives? And why do I now have to sit here wondering if these men would even be out this week in the first place if they weren't white?

It's great that these men were freed this week, I am thrilled for them and their families, but that they were even there in the first place is nothing short of horrific.

OPEN THREAD! (Sorry for making it a depressing one, I just found out about this an hour ago — if you guys want, feel free to turn the Elton John/Elon Musk post into the open thread — otherwise there will be a new post at 8 for your movie night!)

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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