It was March 7, 2022, when the true crime podcast Proof released its first episode digging into the tragic death of teenager Brian Bowling and his two friends who were wrongfully convicted of murder.
Nine months later, almost to the day, Cain Joshua Storey and Darrell Lee Clark were released from prison thanks to the work of Jacinda Davis and Susan Simpson, two journalists who took a second look at their case and released their findings episode by episode in podcast format.
Throughout the course of 2022, Davis and Simpson made several visits to Floyd County, Georgia, to find out why police decided to change their original conclusion from a failed game of Russian roulette to a murder conspiracy from supposed gang related activities. The two hosts discovered that local police manufactured evidence and even a coerced witness in order to pin the crime on Clark and Storey.
“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,” said Simpson.
Playing With A Gun
In October 1996, a young Cain Joshua Storey dropped by the Bowling house to hang out with his best friend. Storey went back to Brian Bowling’s bedroom like he had done so many times before, but a short while later, Brian's sister Amanda Bowling and her family heard a loud thud over the boy’s loud music.
“I don’t think it was the gunshot that we heard, I think it was him hitting the floor,” Amanda told the hosts. “So, I open up the door and me and Kenneth (her now husband) were the first ones in the room and Brian was laying in the floor.”
Amanda recalls Storey was sitting in the corner of the room and told the family they had been playing Russian roulette. The teenager had taken the gun from his father’s safe and had brought it over that night to the Bowling’s house. After police arrived on the scene, they ruled it an accident and took no action. They wouldn’t ask for a statement from Amanda until over a year later.
“There are no records of any witness interviews police conducted at the trailer that night,” said Simpson. “Assuming there were any at all. At first the police don’t think there is any more to investigate.”
From Accident To Conspiracy
So how did investigators jump from accidental shooting to gang assassination? Proof spends 13 episodes dedicated to untangling the messy case prosecutors presented at Storey and Clark’s trial as well as the shady and illegal methods used by investigators. In order to get every detail we suggest listening to the entire podcast.
However, for the sake of the bigger picture, let’s talk about Lee Clark who was noticeably absent from the Bowling house on the night Bowling died. Witnesses produced by police, later debunked by the Proof team, claimed to have seen Clark outside of the Bowling house that night despite multiple witnesses testifying he was with them at a party. Investigators moved forward anyway with a theory that Clark helped Storey kill Bowling for breaking the rules of their gang.
At the trial, prosecutors claimed that Clark, Storey, and Bowling were a part of the “Free Bird Gang.” However, the evidence presented by Steve Cox, an assistant district attorney for Floyd County at the time, arguably didn’t prove the gang's existence. After offering little evidence of organized criminal activity at the outskirts of the county, Cox implored the jury to use this case to show gangs they were not welcome in Northwest Georgia.
“I hope your verdict will send a message to this community, that if you feel like the Free Bird philosophy is behind this homicide, that this community will not tolerate this blatant disregard for life,” Cox said in his closing arguments according to the trial transcript presented on the podcast. “The Free Bird Gang had some very clear rules, you don’t narc out a buddy, in other words, you don’t rat to police on what a buddy has done. These were very clear rules, teenage boys mind you, in Floyd County, but it was going on and if you did this, you died. Pure and simple. Hard to believe, but that was the rule.”
What was hard for Davis and Simpson to believe was how the idea of the “Free Bird Gang” came about. Investigators Harry Dallas Battles and David Stewart brought forward a witness who testified that she had found a notebook in Storey’s room while she was cleaning his house months before Bowling died. She claimed that the notebook contained the “gang’s” rules and a list of its members, which included Clark, Storey, Bowling, and a few others. The notebook was never found by police.
Floyd County police used this to create motive for the hypothetical murder and brought forward a witness to testify that both Storey and Clark had openly bragged about killing Bowling at a party in her home. However, Davis and Simpson uncover that Battles had threatened to arrest the witness if she didn’t testify to hearing a confession that never took place. Battles also told her that if she was arrested the state would take her children.
According to The Rome News-Tribune, Battles was accused of rape and fired from the Floyd County Police Department in 2007, however he was not indicted. He then worked for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and was arrested in 2016 after tasing an inmate in restraints. He died in 2021, a few months before the Proof podcast came to Floyd County.
Stewart is a deputy for the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office according to his Facebook page. He was named Employee of the Quarter in a July 2021 tweet by Floyd County Sheriff Dave Roberson.
After months of open records requests, dead ends, and driving all over the state, Davis and Simpson turned things over to the Georgia Innocence Project who stepped in and filed a motion for a new trial. According to The Rome News-Tribune, Storey took a plea deal for involuntary manslaughter and his time has been considered served. However, Georgia’s First Offender Act will expunge it from his record. All charges against Clark were dropped and the two men were released Thursday night.
Emily Johnson, an assistant district attorney for Floyd County, told John Niedrach, Floyd County Superior Court chief judge, that her office had reviewed the evidence uncovered by the Proof podcast and presented by the Georgia Innocence Project. The Rome Circuit District Attorney's office felt this was the best solution to the new information brought to light.
Niedrach allowed for a moment of applause when the hearing ended.
Listen to the Proof podcast to hear every step in the investigation that led to Storey and Clark’s freedom. The show is in its first season, which began and ended in Floyd County, Georgia. Find it on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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