Joyce Watkins: recently exonerated

Carol Durant
HmmmCarol Durant

Another person that was recently exonerated is Joyce Watkins. She and her boyfriend, Charles Dunn were accused of aggravated rape and first degree murder of her four year old grand-niece in 1987. They were convicted in 1988. They were exonerated of both crimes on January 12, 2022. Ms. Watkins and Mr. Dunn were unfortunately caught in a heinous case which surrounded the death of a child. The collected evidence made them the prime suspects. It took the iron will of Ms. Watkins through years of incarceration to prove their innocence. The Equal Justice Initiative is an organization with a mission to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the justice system. They have written about this case. Here is the link to their website,

Ms. Watkins and Mr. Dunn were initially embroiled in this tragic set of circumstances by Ms. Watkins' relative, Rose Williams, who was the child's other great-aunt and lived in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. They picked up her great-niece from Ms. Williams after a prior discussion at a family outing. Almost two months later they drove from Nashville nearly 60 miles and were met at the door by Ms. Williams with the child and her belongings. After making the return trip back home, Ms. Watkins noticed her great-niece had a bloody secretion in her undergarment. Ms. Watkins called her great-niece's mother and grandmother before taking her great-niece to the hospital. She was told not to take her to the hospital because the mother and grandmother would pick her up in the morning after driving from Fort Benning. When they did not arrive, Ms. Watkins, Mr. Dunn and another relative took the child to the local hospital. The child was diagnosed with head trauma and a rape kit was performed. The child was transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she succumbed to her injuries. Ms. Watkins and Mr. Dunn were very cooperative and met with investigators numerous times without counsel. They were subsequently deemed to be the prime suspects. They were arrested on July 24,1987 and were convicted on August 5, 1988. They both received life sentences and were added to the sex offender registry.

Ms. Watkins has always maintained her innocence. She petitioned the court to revisit their case due to their lack of adequate counsel in 1993, but they were denied in 1994. The years of incarceration passed, but their faith in their innocence never waned. Ms. Watkins and Mr. Dunn were both granted parole in 2015. Mr. Dunn died January 12, 2015 from cancer prior to being paroled. Ms. Watkins was paroled on October 15, 2015 but she had to register as a sex offender.

Ms. Watkins ended up taking her case to The Tennessee Innocence Project in 2020. Here is the link to their website, The group was formed in 2019 and reviews court cases with questionable or excessive verdicts. Many of these cases are found to be wrongful convictions. The Project found that the police and medical investigations were rife with errors that were not discovered until they diligently reviewed every aspect of the case. Their findings concluded that investigative reports and interviews were not recorded at all or in a timely manner, the duo received inadequate legal counsel and medical misconduct. The malfeasance, lack of professionalism and oversight led to another case of wrongful conviction. Ms. Watkins and the late Mr. Dunn were exonerated 39 years later on January 12, 2022.

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Writer, author, poet, playwright

Albany, NY

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