True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here is a compelling look at the way true crime impacts small towns. In many rural areas, the local law enforcement is not accustomed to handling violent crime and homicide because they simply don’t occur as often. As a result, sometimes killers walk free, or in the case of the show’s first episode, the wrong man might wind up behind bars.
In the series premiere, host Hilarie Burton Morgan visits Adel, Georgia, to investigate a devasting crime spree that occurred more than 20 years ago, resulting in the death of four people and the possible imprisonment of an innocent man.
To set the scene, Adel is a little town with a population under 5,000. Southern hospitality is a must. There are flower festivals and a quaint street adorned with family-run mom-and-pop shows. Adel is the type of place where everyone knows everyone, and maintaining a tight-knit community is important to the locals.
When four brutal murders happened in 1998 and 2000, it rocked the entire town. The residents never had a chance to recover from the impact of that carnage.
True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here Episode 1 recap: Donna Brown’s murder
It started in the fall of 1998 when single mother Donna Brown was shot almost point-blank in the Taco Bell parking lot. Donna had been working late and walked out of the shop alone after closing up. She was almost immediately accosted and killed. Devonia Inman, a Black teen with a history of run-ins with the police, was almost immediately targeted for the murder.
Unfortunately for Devonia, he had almost all of the odds stacked against him. In this episode, Hilarie spends time chatting with Devonia’s family, including his family and his son. Based on what we find out, Devonia did have a violent streak, as his girlfriend testified to him being abusive. But there was no real evidence linking him to Donna’s murder.
It’s still unclear as to why the police believed that Devonia had killed Donna. It seems to be a likely mix of racial profiling and Devonia surrounding himself with the wrong kind of people. Then a newspaper carrier came forward to finger Devonia as the murderer, but her testimony changed.
Later, she even recanted her statement in a letter. Similarly, a jailhouse snitch contacted law enforcement to say Devonia had confessed in prison, but again, his testimony was not the most sound, and he, too, later recanted. Devonia has maintained his innocence since the day of his arrest. Nonetheless, he has sat in jail for more than two decades now. We’ll revisit this point further down.
After Devonia’s arrest, things relaxed a little in Adel for a while, until April 2000 when Shailesh Patel was found murdered in his brother-in-law’s house, bashed with a television. Unlike Donna’s case, Shailesh’s murderer was never found, and the case is still marked as unsolved.
His death was also soon overshadowed by a gruesome double-homicide seven months later, in November 2000. Someone murdered Caroll Bennet, a beloved local grocer, and his employee Rebecca Browning. This homicide further horrified a community that was already shaken and grieving from the continuous bloodshed.
True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here Episode 1 recap: Hercules Brown
For the double-homicide, law enforcement believed Hercules Brown to be the culprit. He pleaded guilty to their murders to avoid the death penalty and is currently serving a life sentence. But here’s where things get even crazier.
Hercules Brown worked at the very same Taco Bell as Donna Brown at the same time and would often work closing shifts.
Devonia reached out to the Georgia Innocence Project, and they took on his case due to mounting evidence that he was likely innocent. The biggest break in the case came when the police returned Donna’s car to her family, and they found a ski mask inside that the police somehow overlooked.
Since the ski mask was never tested, the GIP was able to get a DNA test and guess who’s DNA matched? Yep. Hercules Brown.
You’d think this breakthrough, along with the unreliable witnesses and recanted testimony, would be enough to earn Devonia a new trial. Still, the court denied the request, claiming that the ski mask did not prove Devonia wasn’t there, asserting only that Hercules might have also been involved. This went against the court’s original story that Devonia had murdered Donna Brown alone.
As Hilarie talks to his family, it’s devasting to hear how they thought the DNA would mean Devonia would go free from prison. But unfortunately, as of today, Devonia is still behind bars. There is hope. In July 2021, a new judge was appointed to review the case and is considering the Hercules Brown evidence.
New episodes of True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here air Thursdays at 10/9c on SundanceTV.