a prison block

A 74-year-old Joyce Watkins spent 27 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. This week she was exonerated

Being charged with a crime you didn’t commit is an absolute nightmare for anyone. When that charge is for killing one of your very own loved ones? Even worse. Twenty-seven years ago the courts put Joyce Watkins behind bars for allegedly killing her great-niece. This past week her name was finally cleared. This is her story.

Joyce Watkins Charged With Killing Her Great-Niece Finally Exonerated

Earlier this month, 74-year-old Joyce Watkins was exonerated for a crime that she and her boyfriend were wrongly convicted for several decades ago. Joyce spent 27 years in prison before being let out on parole. Her husband, unfortunately, passed before he was set free. The crime? Raping and murdering their four-year-old great-niece Brandi. (1)

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Joyce Watkins with her lawyer

The Fateful Day

On June 26, 1987, Joyce and her boyfriend, Charlie Dunn went to pick up little Brandi from Brandi’s other great-aunt Rose William at her home in Kentucky. Joyce said she noticed a small amount of blood in the child’s underwear, but it was late and she thought she’d look into more the next day. The next day, however, she didn’t have the chance: When she went to wake Brandi, she found the child unresponsive. The couple immediately took the little girl to Nashville Memorial Hospital. (2)

The doctors found that Brandi was suffering from a severe vaginal injury and head trauma. They pronounced her officially dead the next day. Joyce and Charlie had only had Brandi under their care for nine hours, but the examiner determined that she sustained the injuries during that time. A year later in August 1988, the couple was convicted of aggravated rape and first-degree murder. They spent 27 years in jail until they were granted parole in 2015. Sadly, Charlie passed away in jail shortly before his release.

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Abuse Ignored

Brandi’s mother was living in Georgia at the time and Brandi was living with her great-aunt Rose William. While Rose was taking care of her, a Kentucky Department of Social Services worker received reports of abuse happening in the home and visited the house. Rose told the worker that Brandi had simply had an accident while at the playground, which is how she sustained her injuries. The worker left and the case was closed. We now know that Rose was lying.

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Joyce Watkins Exonerated

Joyce lost nearly three decades of her life for a crime she did not commit. Charles, sadly, never again saw life outside of prison. Joyce has been on parole since 2015, but she did not want to simply settle for life on parole. She wanted to clear her name as well as Charles’. She got help from the Tennessee Innocence Project as well as the Davidson County District Attorney’s office. They filed a report requesting exoneration in mid-November of last year.

In their report, they included the fact that Joyce noticed the blood in Brandi’s underwear an hour and a half after they picked her up. At least one full hour of that time they had spent driving. They also included mention of how the method the examiner used to date Brandi’s head trauma is known to not produce accurate results in young children.

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“(The previous doctor’s) methodology for dating the head injury based upon a lack of histiocytic response in the brain tissue is not a legitimate method for dating pediatric head trauma.” Dr. Shipla Reddy’s report stated in the file.

Finally, on January 12 of this year, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge, Angelita Blackshear Dalton exonerated both Joyce and Charles of the crime. This makes Joyce the first black woman to ever be exonerated in the state and the third woman in Tennessee history.

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“It’s a bittersweet day. I wish my daddy was here to witness this day. He knew he was innocent. He knew he did not commit those crimes. He lost his mother, his two brothers, his sister and his son. So many people lost and he was innocent. He died in a place he was never supposed to be,” said Charle’s daughter Jackie Dunn.

Joyce is grateful for everyone who helped her. While she can’t get back those 27 years, she can at least spend her last ones with her dignity restored.

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“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,” she said.

Keep Reading: He visited his mother’s grave for the first time after spending 43 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit

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Sources

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  1. A 74-year-old woman spent 27 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. This week she was exonerated.” CNN. Sara Smart and Paradise Afshar. January 5, 2022.
  2. Joyce Watkins, Charlie Dunn cleared of 1988 murder, rape convictions.” News Channel5. Levi Ismail , Amelia Young. January 5, 2022
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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