(CNN) — A Tennessee woman who was wrongfully convicted for murdering her great-niece and spending 27 years in prison was exonerated this week.
On June 26, 1987, Joyce Watkins, now 74, and her boyfriend at the time, Charlie Dunn, went looking for Watkins’ four-year-old great-niece, Brandi, in Kentucky, according to a report filed with the court. Davidson County felon.
The next morning, Brandi was unresponsive, so Watkins took her to Nashville Memorial Hospital.
Brandi suffered a severe vaginal injury and head trauma. She was pronounced dead the next day, according to the report. The two were with Brandi for only nine hours, but the medical examiner, Dr. Gretel Harlan, concluded that the injuries remained during that time.
A year later, in August 1988, Watkins and Dunn were convicted of murder and aggravated rape.
The two spent 27 years behind bars before they were both paroled in 2015.
Prior to his release, Dunn sadly passed away in jail.
Before the couple took Brandi in, she lived at the home of Rose Williams, Brandi’s great-aunt. Brandi’s mother was in Georgia at the time.
During that time, a Kentucky Department of Social Services worker visited the home after receiving a report that Brandi had been abused.
Williams explained that Brandi Brandi’s injuries were due to a playground accident and that the investigation is closed.
clearing his name
Now, 35 years later, Watkins has been exonerated after she set out to clear her name. Dunn was also cleared of the crime and posthumously exonerated.
His daughter, Jackie Dunn, was in the audience on Wednesday. “I wish my dad was here to witness this day,” he said. “He knew he was innocent, he knew he didn’t commit those crimes,” Dunn told CNN affiliate WTVF.
Watkins received help from the Tennessee Innocence Project and the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office.
“We have this case because she (Joyce) came to us,” Jason Gichner, senior legal counsel for the Tennessee Innocence Project, told CNN. “He just showed up at the office and said, ‘Let me tell you my story. I need your help'”.
The report was filed on November 10, 2021, and requests that the couple’s convictions be overturned.
The filing clarified that Watkins noticed blood on Brandi’s underwear when they got home, just an hour and a half after the couple picked her up, and at least an hour of that time was spent driving back to Nashville.
Also included in the presentation was a report by Dr. Shipla Reddy, who said that Dr. Harlan’s “methodology for dating head injury based on histiocytic unresponsiveness in brain tissue is not a legitimate method for dating pediatric head trauma.
The ruling noted that Harlan recognized the error in his methodology years after the trial.
“Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn are innocent,” District Attorney Glenn Funk told CNN. “We can’t give Mrs. Watkins or Mr. Dunn their lost years, but we can restore their dignity; we can restore their names. His innocence demands it.”
According to Sunny Eaton of the District Attorney’s Office, Watkins is the first black woman to be exonerated in the state and only the third woman in Tennessee history.
“Miss Watkins, this charge against you is dismissed,” Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton said Wednesday morning, according to WTVF.
As for compensation from the family of Watkins or Dunn for lost jail time, Gichner said he’s not sure what will happen in the future.
In a comment to the media and CNN affiliate WZTV, Watkins said: “I thank all the people for their prayers and helping me get out of this mess that has cost me half my life for nothing, but I will get through it.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism