Nashville, Tennessee – Seventy-four-year-old American Joyce Watkins was released from prison this week after 27 years behind bars after being unjustly convicted of the murder of her great-granddaughter, CNN reported.
Watkins and her then-partner Charlie Dunn went to pick up four-year-old niece Brandi from Kentucky on June 26, 1987, according to a court report. The next morning the child lost consciousness, so Watkins took her to a hospital in Nashville.
Brandi suffered severe injuries and died the next day. Watkins and Dunn were with the girl for nine hours, and the pathologist determined that the injuries had been sustained during that time. A year later, in August 1988, Watkins and Dunn were convicted of first-degree murder and rape. The two spent 27 years in prison, with Dan dying behind bars in 2015.
Brandi was at the home of her niece Rose Williams before Watkins and Dan took her. During that time, a social worker visited Williams after receiving information that Brandi had been abused. Williams claimed that Brandi’s injuries were sustained in a playground accident and the investigation was closed.
Thirty-five years later, Watkins was acquitted after a long-running legal battle in which she was helped by an organization to prove the guilt of the unjustly convicted in Tennessee, as well as by the local prosecutor’s office. The charges were also dropped posthumously in the case against Dan.
“We got this case because Joyce approached us,” said Jason Gichner, who works for the Tennessee Innovation Project.
Together they managed to prove inconsistencies in the indictment, while one of the medical experts who testified at Watkins’ trial admitted his mistake.
– I want to thank everyone for their prayers and help to get me out of this mess, which cost me half my life for no reason. “But I will overcome this,” Watkins said.
The prosecution also acknowledged the mistake in the case.
– Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn are innocent. We can not give back to Mrs. Watkins or Mr. Dunn the lost years, but we can restore their dignity and whitewash their names. Their innocence demands it – said the local public prosecutor Frank Funk.
Watkins is the first African-American woman to be released from state power in Tennessee, the third woman in the history of the US state.
It is still unknown whether Watkins and Charlie Dunn’s family will receive financial compensation for their time in prison.