The woman was exonerated this week after spending 27 years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit. According to reports, the woman was wrongfully convicted of murder. The 74-year-old, who is the first Black woman to be ever exonerated in the state and the third woman in state’s history, told media, “I thank all the people for their prayers and helping me get out of this mess which has cost me half of my life for nothing, But I’ll get over it.”
On June 26, 1987, the woman from Tennessee, Joyce Watkins, and her boyfriend, Charlie Dunn, reportedly went to pick up her 4-year-old great-niece, Brandi, in Kentucky. The following day, Brandi became unresponsive. So Watkins rushed her to the hospital, according to reports.
Following some tests, it was found that Brandi suffered a severe vaginal injury and head trauma. The day after her hospital admission the child passed away. Although Watkins and her boyfriend were with Brandi for only nine hours, the medical examiner, Dr. Gretel Harlan, concluded that the child had sustained the injuries within that time frame. In August 1988, a year later, both Watkins and Dunn were convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape.
According to reports, both spent the next 27 years in prison before finally being granted parole in 2015. But shortly before he could be released from jail, Dunn passed away. Today, 35 years later, Watkins has finally been exonerated of the crime after she made it a point to clear her name. Dunn too has been cleared of the crime. “I wish my daddy was here to witness this day,” said Dunn’s daughter, Jackie, at the hearing.
“He knew he was innocent, he knew he did not commit those crimes.” According to reports, Watkins achieved justice with the help of the DA’s Office and the Tennessee Innocence Project.
“We got this case because she (Joyce) came to us,” shared senior legal counsel with the Tennessee Innocence Project, Jason Gichner. “She just showed up at the office and said, ‘Let me tell you my story. I need your help.'”
It was later revealed that before Brandi was picked up by the pair on the fateful day, she was living at her great-aunt, Rose Williams’ home. The child’s mother was in Georgia at the time.
During that time, a Kentucky Department of Social Services visited the home after receiving a report about Brandi being abused. But Williams explained that Brandi sustained the injuries due to a mishap at the playground and the investigation was closed.
Wakins said she noticed blood in Brandi’s underwear when they arrived home, an hour and half after picking her up. A report by Dr. Shipla Reddy explained that Dr. Harlan’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.” The ruling also noted that Harlan admitted error in her methodology years following the trial.
“Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn are innocent,” said District Attorney Glenn Funk. “We cannot give Ms. Watkins or Mr. Dunn their lost years but we can restore their dignity; we can restore their names. Their innocence demands it.”
Watkins, who is the first Black woman to be ever exonerated in the state and the third woman in Tennessee’s history, told media, “I thank all the people for their prayers and helping me get out of this mess which has cost me half of my life for nothing, But I’ll get over it.”