Two men in Georgia who spent over 20 years in prison on murder convictions were exonerated this month after new evidence proved their innocence.
Darrell Lee Clark and his co-defendant Cain Joshua Storey were arrested when they were 17 years old for their involvement in the death of 15-year-old Brian Bowling on Oct. 18, 1996. Bowling reportedly died from a gunshot wound to the head in his family’s home while playing a game of Russian roulette with a gun brought over by Storey, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.
Police initially believed Storey’s account that the shooting was accidental, but determined that a manslaughter charge against him was warranted. Police then began investigating Bowling’s death as a homicide at the urging of his family, Georgia Innocence Project noted in a news release:
As part of that investigation, police interviewed a woman who lived near the Bowling’s home. She told police that she had hosted a party months after the shooting death of Bowling and that it was attended by both Clark and Storey. At the party, she alleged the teenagers explained how they had planned the murder of Bowling because he knew too much about a prior theft that Storey and Clark had committed.
Days after speaking with the party hostess, police upgraded Storey’s charge from manslaughter to murder and also connected Clark to the case for the first time, arresting him as a co-conspirator despite the fact that he had a corroborated alibi. In an attempt to strengthen their case against Clark, three days after Clark’s arrest, police then spoke to a hearing and speech-impaired witness who’d been in a different room in the Bowlings’ home when the shooting occurred. Police claimed 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.
Both Clark and Storey were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
In 2021, investigative true crime podcasters Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis began digging into the case. They interviewed two of the State’s key witnesses and discovered that the party hostess was coerced into giving false statements and testimony regarding the vengeful remarks Storey and Clark made. Reportedly, police threatened to take her children away from her if she did not comply with their demands. And, the hearing- and speech-impaired man had been misunderstood at the trial. In the 1970s, he had reportedly witnessed an “unrelated, factually similar shooting” and was unable to separate those facts from Bowling’s death.
“At a certain point, as we started to get more materials, more witnesses, for me it became fairly certain that not only was Lee Clark innocent, but Cain Storey was not the one who fired the gun that night in Bowling’s bedroom,” Simpson said, according to iHeartRadio.
“This newly-discovered evidence shattered the State’s theory of Clark’s involvement in the shooting death of Bowling and strongly supports what Clark has been telling everyone for more than 25 years–he is innocent,” the Georgia Innocence Project noted.
On Thursday, Storey and Clark were released from prison.
"I'm still trying to soak all this in," Clark said in an interview with a local news outlet after his release. "It's kind of surreal to me."