We’ve all heard unfortunate tales of Black men being imprisoned for decades only to be exonerated after they’re discovered to be innocent all along, but rarely do we ever hear stories of it happening to women.
Sadly a 74-year-old Black woman named Joyce Watkins can attest to being wrongfully convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, and she too has been officially exonerated after spending over two-and-a-half decades behind bars prior to her release.
Watkins, a Nashville, Tennessee native, was accused of murdering her four-year-old niece back in 1987 along with her boyfriend at the time, Charlie Dunn. Both were sentenced to 27 years in prison after being found guilty, and equally got paroled only seven years ago. Unfortunately for Dunn, he wouldn’t get the chance to see freedom or fight for his innocence.
According to a report filed with the Davidson County Criminal Court, June 26, 1987, Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn picked up four-year-old Brandi in Kentucky. The next morning Brandi was unresponsive and was rushed to Nashville Memorial Hospital by Watkins.
It was determined by doctors that Brandi suffered from severe vaginal injury and head trauma. She was pronounced dead the next day.
According to the medical examiner, Brandi’s injuries were sustained during the time she was in the care of Watkins and Dunn.
In the summer of 1988, both Watkins and Dunn were convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape. They would spend the next 27 years in prison and eventually both were granted parole in 2015. Dunn passed away before he could be released.
Further details explain that young Brandi was living with her great-aunt, Rose Williams, prior to being picked up by Watkins and Dunn. Under her care, a worker for the Kentucky Department of Social Services had visited the home around that time following a report that Brandi was abused. Williams brushed it off as a “playground mishap” and the case was closed soon after.
It’s still not clear as to who actually assaulted Brandi and caused her death, but Watkins noted that she did notice blood on her underwear once they arrived at her home after driving for an hour and a half from Kentucky to Nashville. In a report filed by Watkins in November 2021 to clear Joyce and Charlie, Dr. Shipla Reddy found errors in how the head trauma was initially classified, saying 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.”
Watkins was granted her exoneration with help from the Tennessee Innocence Project and the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office. They also were able to posthumously exonerate Dunn as well, which his daughter responded to by saying “I wish my daddy was here to witness this day,” and adding, “He knew he was innocent, he knew he did not commit those crimes.”
Going back to our original point, Joyce Watkins was discovered to be one of three Black women to ever be exonerated in Tennessee history. Jason Gichner, senior legal counsel with the Tennessee Innocence Project, says he’s unsure what the future holds in regards to compensation for Watkins and Dunn for wrongfully spending decades behind bars. Hopefully they figure it out sooner than later, and we pray for both parties involved in this seriously messed up misjudgment.
74-Year-Old Tennessee Black Woman Exonerated After 27 Years Behind Bars was originally published on blackamericaweb.com