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 next morning Brandi was unresponsive, so Watkins took her to Nashville Memorial Hospital.
A year later, in August 1988, Watkins and Dunn were convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape.
Before his release, Dunn, unfortunately, passed away in jail.
Prior to Brandi being picked up by the couple, she was living at the home of Rose Williams, Brandi’s great-aunt. Brandi’s mother was in Georgia at the time.
Throughout that period, a Kentucky Department of Social Services worker visited the home after receiving a report Brandi had been abused.
Williams explained Brandi’s injuries Brandi were due to a playground mishap, and the investigation was closed.
Clearing her name
Now 35 years later, Watkins has been exonerated after she made it a point to clear her name.
“We got this case because she (Joyce) came to us,” Jason Gichner, senior legal counsel with the Tennessee Innocence Project told CNN. “She just showed up at the office and said, ‘Let me tell you my story. I need your help.’ “
The filing clarified Watkins noticed blood in Brandi’s underwear when they arrived home, only an hour and a half after the couple picked her up, with at least an hour of that time spent driving back to Nashville.
A report from Dr. Shipla Reddy was also included in the filing, who said 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 noted Harlan conceded the error in her methodology years after the trial.
“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.”
“Miss Watkins, this charge against you is dismissed,” Davidson County Criminal Court Judge, Angelita Blackshear Dalton, said Wednesday morning, according to WTVF.