After nearly 30 years in prison, an American woman and her late boyfriend were exonerated of the rape and murder of her four-year-old niece in 1987.
Joyce Watkins, 74, was convicted in 1988 of raping and murdering her great-niece Brandi.
According to police and prosecutors, she and her boyfriend, Charles Dunn, brutalized the girl to the point where she died while in their care.
Watkins, then 38, drove Brandi to a Nashville hospital nine hours after picking her up from another woman’s home, where the child had been for two months and neighbours suspected she was being abused.
A doctor determined that Brandi, who was unconscious at the time, had been raped and died as a result of injuries sustained during the nine hours she was in the care of Watkins and her boyfriend.
Dunn, also known as Charlie, died in prison in 2015, and Watkins was released the same year after serving a 27-year sentence.
On Wednesday, a judge overturned their convictions, Dunn’s posthumously, following an appeal from The Innocence Project that called the doctor’s analysis of when Brandi was raped and injured into question.
It discovered that there was no evidence of when the girl was brutalized and that the doctor made the claim based on marks on Brandi’s skin rather than any internal injuries.
According to a report by the Nashville Criminal Review Unit, the girl’s then-19-year-old male cousin, who was enlisted in the Marines at the time, may have raped and beaten her.
No one else has been arrested in connection with the crime, and it is unknown whether he is still alive.
Watkins said after the hearing, ‘It’s been a long struggle, but I want to thank the DA’s office.’
I’d like to thank Mr Gichner of the Tennessee Innocence Project, as well as everyone else, for their prayers and for simply assisting me in getting out of this mess that has cost me half my life for nothing.’
‘It’s a bittersweet day,’ said Charlie Dunn’s daughter Jackie. I wish my father was here to witness this moment. He was well aware that he was not guilty. He was well aware that he had not committed those crimes. He had lost his mother, two brothers, a sister, and a son. So many people died, and he was completely innocent. He died in a place where he had no business being.’
The report also stated that Brandi had bruises while in the care of the Marine’s mother, Rose Williams, and that she had been reported to social services.
Louis Lockhart, Brandi’s mother, has long been a supporter of Watkins. She stated on Wednesday that she never thought she was responsible for her daughter’s death.