Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Darrell Clark

Other Georgia exonerations
Shortly after 9:30 p.m. on October 18, 1996, 17-year-old Cain Joshua Storey went to see his best friend, 15-year-old Brian Bowling, who lived with his family in a mobile home in Silver Creek, Georgia, south of Rome, Georgia.

Storey greeted Bowling’s mother and father, Debra and Rocky, as well as Bowling’s sister, Amanda, and her fiancé, Kenneth Floyd, who were watching television in the living room. Also present were brothers Wayne and Charlie Childers with whom Brian had been working earlier that day.

In his pocket, Storey was carrying a five-shot .38-caliber revolver that belonged to Storey’s father. Storey would later say he hoped to do some target practice with Brian.

Storey then entered Brian’s room where Brian was listening to music and talking on a portable telephone with his new girlfriend, Caprice Hiott.

Minutes later, the sound of a loud pop was heard and the house erupted in chaos. While there were different accounts of what was seen, what was said, and what was heard, there was no doubt that Brian Bowling had been shot in the head.

Family members would later describe how Storey first screamed, “I didn’t mean to kill him,” then said he didn’t mean for Bowling to die and that Bowling had shot himself in the head while playing Russian roulette.

Paramedics and police were called. Bowling was taken to a hospital where he was put on life support. The following day, with no brain activity detected, the life support was removed, and he died.

The shooting was deemed an accident based on Storey’s account. Storey said he had one bullet, but that he thought Bowling would have more. Storey said that Brian dry-fired the gun once and told his girlfriend he was playing Russian Roulette. Storey said he told Bowling to quit playing around. He said that Bowling put the bullet in the five-shot revolver, spun the cylinder, cocked the hammer and, holding the gun in his right hand, put it to the right side of his head.

Storey said he looked away in the hope that doing so would deter Bowling from further action. Instead, Storey said the gun fired and when he turned back, Bowling was slumping off his bed and onto the floor.

About two hours after the shooting, Storey’s hands were swabbed for gunshot residue. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory later reported that no residue was found on Storey’s hands.

On October 20, 1996, the day after Bowling was pronounced dead, Floyd County Police Detective Dallas Battle and Sergeant Mike Wallace brought Storey in for an interview, suspecting that Storey had shot Bowling. Their suspicion was fueled in part by interviews with Bowling’s mother and Kenneth Floyd, who had said that Bowling was tightly clutching the telephone in his right hand. How, they declared, could Bowling have shot himself, dropped the gun and then clutched the phone?

“I did not accidentally shoot him, sir,” Storey said during the interview, which was tape recorded. “I swear to God. I’ll swear in the face of almighty God. I did not accidentally shoot him…I wouldn’t even kill my best friend, not even [in] an accident…I wouldn’t even kill my worst enemy, much less my best friend in the whole world.”

Battle pressed Storey, saying, “It was an accident and you accidentally shot him.”

“No, sir,” Storey said.

Battle noted that Bowling was clutching the phone in his right hand. Sergeant Wallace said family members said they had to “pry” the phone from Bowling’s hand so they could call 911 to report the shooting.

Battle and Wallace relentlessly insisted that Storey had shot Bowling. They stopped and then interviewed him a second time.

Seventeen minutes into this interview, Storey said: “I accidentally shot him…the gun was in my hand when it went off.”

Storey was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.

As police continued to investigate the shooting, they began to focus on a theory that Bowling had been shot because he had provided information to police about the involvement of one of Storey’s friends, 17-year-old Darrell Lee Clark, in the theft of a safe containing $3,200 from Storey’s home. On October 3, 1996–15 days before the shooting–Clark and two other youths were at Storey’s home, and they decided to steal the safe, which belonged to Storey’s father. When they smashed it open and found the cash, they decided to divide it equally--$800 each. The theft quickly unraveled. That same day, Storey admitted to his father what he and the others had done and that the money had been hidden in a cemetery nearby. Bowling had told his mother—who informed police—that he saw Clark in the cemetery, which was visible from the Bowling residence, and that Clark was retrieving money.

The police believed that Storey and Clark were part of a “gang” of youths called the “Free Birds,” and that they had decided to kill Bowling in retaliation for talking to the police.

On May 3, 1997, police arrested Clark, and on May 23, 1997, he and Storey were both charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

In January 1998, Clark and Storey went to trial in Floyd County Superior Court. The prosecution case relied primarily on Storey’s statement and the testimony of two witnesses, Angela Bruce and Charlie Childers. The prosecution contended that when Storey came into Bowling’s room, Caprice Hiott paged Clark, who came into Bowling’s room through an open window in the bedroom. And then, according to the prosecution, Storey shot Bowling, and Clark fled out of the window.

The defense claimed that Storey played the guitar, wrote music, and wanted to form a band—that he and his friends were fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band whose songs included one titled “Free Bird.” There was no gang, the defense contended, and the shooting was an accident.

The defense contended that the shooting occurred when Bowling put a bullet in the gun and played Russian roulette while on the phone with his girlfriend. There was no reason to retaliate, the defense claimed, because Storey had already told police about the theft of the safe, and he had identified Clark and the other two youths as being involved.

Kenneth Floyd testified that he was the first person in Bowling’s bedroom after he heard the shot. He said that the only window in the room, which did not have glass in the bottom pane, was open. Normally, Floyd said, a sheet of plywood was propped against the bottom pane to keep out the elements. He said that the cordless phone that Bowling was using to talk to his girlfriend was clutched in Bowling’s right hand. The gun was on the floor between Bowling’s legs, Floyd said.

Bowling’s mother, Debra, testified that she followed Floyd into the bedroom. She said Storey said, “He just took the gun out of my hand and put it to his head and pulled the trigger. I didn’t mean to kill him. I didn’t mean for him to die.”

She also testified that the window was open. She told the jury she took the phone from Bowling’s hand and heard his girlfriend screaming, asking what had happened. Debra said she hung up the phone and called 911.

Debra said that while she and Floyd were attempting to aid Bowling, Storey came back into the room and reached for the gun. She quoted him as saying that “they want to know what kind of gun it is.” Debra said she looked out the window and, not seeing anyone, batted his hand away.

Detective Battle testified about Storey’s statement during his interrogation. He also testified that in November 1996, authorities had exhumed Bowling’s casket and retrieved a note placed inside by one of his friends. The note referenced the Free Birds and, according to Battle, Bowling's mother told him that she had seen the note before it went into the casket and that it said “the penalty for ratting on this group is death.”

However, when the note was shown to the jury, it said, “Brian, we’re gonna miss you. Flying High. With Sweet love, the Free Birds. P.S See you at the crossroads.” At the bottom, was the word “narc,” which had been circled and a line drawn through it. Battle said “narc” was a term that meant to provide information to police and the line drawn through it meant that such conduct was not allowed.

Battle said the phone and the gun had not been swabbed or dusted for fingerprints because the items had been handled by too many people. Battle also testified that when he looked at the body at the funeral home, where it was taken after it was released from the hospital, he did not see any powder burns.

Floyd County Coroner, Craig Burnes, who was a funeral director and embalmer, but not a physician, testified that he did not see any evidence of powder burns or stippling. Asked by prosecutor Steven Cox what that meant, Burnes testified, “It tells me that it is…somewhat of a distance shot.” Burnes estimated the gun was at least 12 to 18 inches from Bowling’s head when the shot was fired.

Burnes said no autopsy was performed because the family approved donation of the boy’s organs. Asked about blackened skin around the bullet hole, Burnes said it was the result of bruising and also from black powder that he put into the wound as part of the pre-embalming process. He said the powder absorbed blood and acted to prevent further fluid loss from the wound.

The prosecution presented photographs which showed Bowling’s head with a probe that entered the wound on the right side of the head and exited in the left side rear of Bowling’s head.

Dr. Carl Herring, a neurosurgeon who treated Bowling when he was brought to the emergency room, also testified that his report did not mention that any powder burns were seen. There were none, he said. Dr. Herring told the jury that the path of the bullet was a 45 degree angle with 90 degrees being directly across the head from one side to another. He also said the bullet path was downward from front to back.

Over defense objection, Dr. Herring testified that “almost all of the self-inflicted gunshot wounds that I have seen, which number at least 30, are usually more straight across. In fact, patients often survive them because they go straight across and don’t do enough damage to the brain.”

Dr. Herring said that the downward and toward the rear path of the bullet was “unusual,” but that “if pushed to render an opinion definitively whether this was self-inflicted…I would have no response.”

During cross-examination, Dr. Herring said the wound also was consistent with someone playing Russian Roulette and putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger.

Robert Clemenson, a microanalyst at the Georgia State Crime Laboratory, testified about the gunshot residue swabs taken from Storey’s hands. He said his analysis “failed to reveal the presence of elements characteristic of gunshot residue. However, these results do not eliminate the possibility that this individual could have handled or discharged a firearm.”

Cinnamon Higgins, a forensic serology analyst at the crime lab, testified that a blood-spattered pillow retrieved from Bowling’s bedroom had been examined. She said human blood was found on the pillow, but no further testing was done to determine a blood type.

Bernadette Davey, a firearms examiner at the crime lab, testified that she examined the pillow and found no evidence of gunpowder.

Angela Bruce testified that in February 1997, she had a party in her trailer and that Storey and Clark came in along with Storey’s uncle, Phil Storey. Bruce said that in the early morning hours, one of the people at the party, Chris West, told her that he was angry at Storey and Clark because they were talking about how Storey had killed Bowling. Bruce said Storey was saying that he was Bowling’s best friend. “And something about a robbery or burglary involving a safe and that the boy knew too much. And he said that they shot him,” Bruce said.

Asked by prosecutor Cox if Storey said who shot Bowling, Bruce said, “If I’m not mistaken, he said he did.”

Bruce claimed that Storey explained that Bowling’s girlfriend had gotten Bowling on the telephone to “keep Brian occupied” and that she had paged Clark and Storey to “let them know when Brian was by himself, and they went in there, and they shot him, put a pillow over his head, execution style.”

She said Clark did not say much. Cox asked, “The main thing you remember [Clark] saying was that he was there, but he didn’t pull the trigger?

“Yes, sir,” Bruce replied.

Asked about the Free Birds, Bruce said, “it’s a gang that they steal. They rob people. They burglarize.”

“Did either one of these men talk about any rules the group had?” Cox asked.

“Well, you just don’t get out of it,” Bruce said. “You can’t never get out of it once you’re in it.” Asked if there were other rules, Bruce said, “Yes, don’t talk to pigs [police].”

“What if you talk to the pigs?” Cox asked.

“You don’t make [out] it alive,” Bruce said.

Bruce said she ordered Storey, his uncle, and Clark out of the house after grabbing a knife from the kitchen. She said that when they left, she saw Clark and Storey get into a car in which there were two young women. One of them was Caprice Hiott, Bowling’s girlfriend, Bruce said.

The prosecution then recalled Detective Battle, who testified that in late May 1997, he had interviewed Charlie Childers, who was in the living room along with his brother Wayne Childers, at the time of the shooting. Earlier in the day, Bowling had been doing work for the Childers brothers.

Charlie Childers was deaf and mute. He communicated with a mixture of sign language and hand gestures. Battle said, “Charlie, from my understanding, can read lips. I was looking at him, so he could see my lips, and I was…getting Wayne to sign to him….Wayne told us that he could sign to him…and interpret.”

Battle testified that based on his interview with Charlie, he learned that Charlie saw someone run through the front yard of the trailer after the shooting. Battle said he prepared a photographic lineup containing Clark’s photograph and that Charlie picked Clark as the person he saw running through the yard after the shot. Battle said Charlie circled Clark’s photograph and also marked an X on a form indicating that he had selected Clark’s photograph. Battle said he did not coach Charlie to identify Clark.

Wayne Childers testified, “Sometimes I have to get [Charlie] to write it on a piece of paper, cause I ain't got no high school education. And sometimes he writes on a piece of paper; I take it to my mama, ‘cause I can’t read or write, and she’d tell me what he was saying.”

Asked how he knew Charlie had some information about the night of the shooting, Wayne said, “Charlie wrote it on a piece of paper and told my mother.”

A sign language interpreter was present when Charlie took the witness stand. The interpreter said that Charlie saw Storey carrying what “looked like a gun” when he went into Bowling’s bedroom. “I could hear—or something startled me,” the interpreter said. “Made me turn around real quick and—I kind of was wondering what to do—I thought it was a gun. I heard a gun in there…it was really loud and it startled me. I saw Storey come out, walking kind of quickly and kind of nervous.”

Through the interpreter, Charlie was asked if the person he knew as “Darrell” was in the courtroom. Six times, Charlie said that Darrell was not in the courtroom. Finally, Cox walked over and stood behind Clark at the defense table. It was only then, that the interpreter concluded that Charlie indicated the person the prosecutor was standing behind was the person he was talking about. However, during cross-examination, Charlie described "Darrell" as a Black man with black hair who was married. Clark, who is white, had brown hair and had never been married.

Storey testified for the defense and denied shooting Bowling. He said he had taken his dad’s pistol without permission and had fired all the shells that were in it doing target practice. He said that he had one live bullet in his pocket when he came into Bowling’s room.

He testified that Bowling was on the phone with his girlfriend, but was excited to see the gun. “He said, ‘Let’s go target practice. I got some shells,’” Storey said.

Bowling wanted to see the gun, so Storey gave it to him. “He started dry-firing it,” Storey said. “He asked me if I had any shells and I said I had one. He said, ‘Well, let me see it.’”

Storey said he gave the bullet to Bowling, who inserted it into the chamber of the pistol. “He proceeded to play Russian Roulette by cheating,” Storey said, by not spinning the cylinder and making sure the bullet was not in a position to be fired.

“He did it once, and I said, ‘Brian, give me the gun. Don’t be playing this stupid game,’” Storey testified. “And he jumped up and he did it again,” and then asked Storey to tell Caprice, his girlfriend on the phone, what he was doing.

“He handed me the phone, and I said, ‘Well, he’s playing Russian roulette.’” Storey said. “She said, ‘Oh, God. Please make him stop.’”

Storey said he asked Bowling to hand over the gun. “I gave him the phone back and he gave me the gun. I sat down on the bed,” Storey said. “I made sure the bullet was nowhere near the chamber, and I too played the sorry game. I cheated.”

Storey said Bowling then put the phone in his lap and took the gun. “He spun the cylinder and pulled back the hammer and put it to his head,” Storey said.

Storey began to weep as he testified. “I looked him in the eye. I said, ‘Man, don’t do it. It’s the one.’”

“He said, ‘You think so?’ and I turned my head, and I heard a shot. I looked around and I seen his right hand was laying in his lap and his other hand was dangling beside,” Storey testified. “I seen him fall over, and that’s when I ran out of the room, screaming, ‘He shot hisself in the head! My God! He shot himself in the head.”

He said he felt responsible for his best friend’s death. He later testified that he came to get the gun saying “they” wanted to know what caliber it was because Bowling’s father, Rocky, was on the phone with paramedics who were asking the question. Storey denied he was trying to get the gun because he had shot Bowling.

Storey denied saying he shot Bowling. “I said I didn’t mean for him to die, meaning that I didn’t mean for none of this to happen by me bringing the gun down there. I never said I didn’t mean to kill him or nothing like that. No.”

Storey denied that Clark was at the home and was involved in any plot to kill Bowling.

The defense also called Storey’s uncle, Phil Storey, who denied that there was any discussion of Bowling’s death at the party at Angela Bruce’s trailer. Caprice Hiott testified that she was not in a car outside of Bruce’s trailer on the night Bruce said she ordered Storey, his uncle, and Clark out of the trailer party. Hiott said she was just 15 at the time and did not drive.

Cheree Surratt testified that on the night Bowling was shot, she dropped her twin sons off at Clark’s home where they spent the night. She said that she left them there about 8:30 p.m. One of her sons, Douglas, testified that they were at the home all night and that Clark did not leave.

The defense also called Dr. Harvey Howell, the Bartow County, Georgia, medical examiner, who said he had examined the photographs of Bowling’s body at the funeral home as well as the CAT scan done at the hospital and the medical records of Bowling’s treatment.

Dr. Howell said the angle of the bullet was closer to 30 degrees, instead of the 45 degrees cited by the treating physician. He said that angle was “very characteristic of a self-inflicted wound. Dr. Howell said he saw a few little red speckles around the edges of this wound. That’s powder stippling…When you fire a gun, most of that powder burns up, but there's a little bit of the powder that doesn't burn, and those—those little tiny fragments of powder come out as little tiny fragments, and then they hit the skin.”

Dr. Howell said the gun was in contact with Bowling’s skin when fired. He said the entrance wound was larger than the exit wound because the gun had been fired so close to the head that gasses that followed the bullet blew out the skin. “And the other thing…that lets me know this is a contact wound is the black coloration…a combination of charred flesh and powder…This is clearly a contact wound.”

On January 19, 1998, the jury convicted Storey and Clark of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They were sentenced to life in prison.

In April 1999, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the convictions.

In late 2021, Susan Simpson and Jacinda Davis began interviewing witnesses related to the case as a part of their reinvestigation of Bowling’s death. The women ultimately aired their findings on their true-crime podcast “Proof.”

They had obtained a sign language interpreter with specialized knowledge of Charlie Childers’s communication style and accompanied Charlie to the trailer where Bowling died. After much back and forth, the podcasters discovered that Charlie, when he testified at the trial, was referring to an unrelated shooting that occurred in a different trailer in 1976, 20 years before Bowling was shot. Charlie asserted that he never saw Clark on the night Bowling died.

In December 2021, the podcasters interviewed Angela Bruce. Bruce said that she never actually heard Storey or Clark say they shot Bowling. She said Storey only said that Bowling had shot himself while playing Russian roulette. She said she only mentioned Clark after police brought his name up to her. She denied Clark made any admission.

Bruce said the police forced her into providing the statements under threat of losing her children. She said Battle harassed her by asking for sexual favors on multiple occasions. She said that another police investigator, David Stewart, threatened to get the state Division of Family and Children Services to take away her children if she did not implicate Storey and Clark.

As the podcasters pursued their investigation, so too did the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) on a parallel track. In September 2022, GIP attorneys Christina Cribbs and Meagan Hurley filed an extraordinary motion for a new trial and a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Clark.

The pleadings recounted the findings of the podcasters as well as new information obtained by the GIP, including that Battle secretly had been having an affair with Bowling’s aunt during the investigation.

The new trial motion noted that Charlie acknowledged that he signed a witness lineup identification form, but said the form had nothing to do with the lineup he viewed. And the “X” that was on the form, indicating an identification, was written by police, not Charlie, according to Charlie. He also indicated that before he saw the lineup, Battle told him that it would include Clark’s photo.

The motion said that when the lawyers visited Charlie, they showed him photographs of Clark. “Childers stated that he had never seen Clark at the Bowling’s trailer,” the motion said. “However, he said the police had shown him a photo of Clark and told him that they had caught Clark, as he was outside the Bowling’s trailer when Brian was shot. Childers also said that someone told him Clark was involved in the shooting.”

“Moreover, there was no reason for the interpreter [at the trial] to know that [Charlie] was describing a completely different shooting,” the motion said.

In addition, the legal team noted that in August 2022, just a month earlier, they had learned that Charlie also met with the trial prosecutor, Steve Cox, at Cox’s office prior to the trial. “During the meeting, for which Battle was also present and for which there was no interpreter, Childers said the group discussed Brian Bowling’s shooting primarily by writing notes. Childers did not tell anyone at the meeting that he had seen Clark or any boy outside of the Bowling’s home after Brian was shot,” the habeas petition said.

“In light of the new evidence…the case…has completely fallen apart,” the motion said.

On December 8, 2022, Clark’s and Storey’s convictions were vacated, and both men were released. Storey agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for bringing the gun to Bowling’s home. He was sentenced to 10 years as a first offender, and the sentence had long ago been completed.

All charges against Clark were dismissed.

“You never think something like that is going to happen to you,” Clark said after he was released. “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.”

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 1/11/2023
Last Updated: 1/11/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1996
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No