A Tennessee woman who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her great-niece and spent 27 years in prison was exonerated this week.
Joyce Watkins and her boyfriend at the time, Charlie Dunn, had been convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape in 1988 after the death of Watkins’ 4-year-old niece Brandi, CNN reported.
On June 26, 1987, Joyce Watkins, now 74, and her boyfriend at the time, Charlie Dunn, went to pick up Watkins’ four-year-old great-niece, Brandi, in Kentucky, according to a report filed with the Davidson County Criminal Court.
The following day Brandi was unresponsive, so Watkins took her to Nashville Memorial Hospital.
Brandi suffered from severe vaginal injury and head trauma. She was pronounced dead the following day, the report stated. Watkins and Dunn were with Brandi for only nine hours, but the medical examiner, Dr. Gretel Harlan, concluded the injuries were sustained during that time.
In August 1988, they were convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape.
With some help from the Tennessee Innocence Project and the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office, Watkins could eventually clear both their names. In court documents requesting their convictions be vacated, Watkins clarified that she saw blood in Brandi’s underwear shortly after picking the girl up.
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A report from Dr. Shipla Reddy was also included in the filing. It concluded 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.”
Davidson County, Tennessee Criminal Court Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton, announced the charges against the pair had been dropped. “Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn are innocent,” District Attorney Glenn Funk told CNN, “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.”
“I wish my daddy was here to witness this day,” Dunn’s daughter, Jackie, told WTVF. “He knew he was innocent. He knew he did not commit those crimes.”
Before her death, Brandi was living with her great-aunt, Rose Williams. During her time there, a Kentucky Department of Social Services worker visited the home to investigate allegations that the girl was abused. CNN said her guardian blamed her injuries on a playground accident, and the case was closed.