74-Year-Old Woman Who Spent 27 Years In Prison For Murder She Didn’t Commit Finally Exonerated
A 74-year-old Tennessee woman who spent 27 years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of her great-niece’s murder has been formally exonerated of the crime.
Joyce Watkins was found guilty alongside her boyfriend, Charlie Dunn, of the rape and murder of four-year-old Brandi in 1987. She spent 27 years in prison before being granted parole in 2015, while Dunn died in jail that same year while waiting for his own parole hearing.
Following her release, Watkin’s case was taken up by the Tennessee Innocence Project, leading to a re-examination of the investigation by the Nashville Conviction Review Unit. It culminated in a new report released in 2021 that found the pair’s convictions were the result of a ‘dishonest’ prosecution that relied on since-discredited methods to determine their guilt.
On Wednesday, January 12, a Nashville judge ruled to dismiss the charges against Watkins and Dunn, officially clearing their names and removing Watkins from the Federal Sex Offenders registry, on which she had remained after being released from prison.
‘It’s been a long struggle, but I want to thank the DA’s office. I want to thank Mr. Gichner here with the Tennessee Innocence Project and all the people for their prayers and just helping me to get out of this mess which cost me half of my life for nothing,’ Watkins said following the verdict, per News Channel 5.
Dunn’s daughter Jackie was also in attendance to see her father officially exonerated, and described the verdict as ‘bittersweet’.
‘I wish my daddy was here to witness this day. He knew he was innocent. He knew he did not commit those crimes… He died in a place he was never supposed to be,’ she said.
On June 26, 1987, Brandi had been picked up by Watkins from another relative’s house and taken to stay with her and Dunn at their home in Nashville. The next morning, Watkins found Brandi unconscious and took her to a local hospital. Doctors found signs of rape and head trauma, but were unable to save her, leading investigators to charge Watkins and Dunn with her rape and murder.
Medical experts re-examining the case found that the methods used to suggest Brandi had been in the care of Watkins and Dunn when she was raped were ‘not rooted in science’, with the 44-page report stating that aside from the fact that Dunn had been a male in Brandi’s presence shortly before her death ‘there is utterly no evidence suggesting Mr. Dunn’s guilt’.
In a statement issued following the hearing, Watkins’ lawyer said, ‘They always knew they were innocent. Their families knew they were innocent and now today, everybody knows they’re innocent.’
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