Georgia man exonerated 22 years after being wrongfully convicted of murder
ROME, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A Floyd County man accused of murdering a 21-year-old has been exonerated after spending more than two decades behind bars.
In 2001, Joey Watkins was found guilty of murder in the January 2000 death of Isaac Dawkins, who was reportedly found along a busy highway near Rome in his truck with a gunshot wound to the head. Watkins was sentenced to life in prison.
“I didn’t think it was real at 19. I knew I was a suspect, but I didn’t really take it serious because I didn’t do this. I didn’t commit the crime. When the conviction came through, it was the worst day of my life,” Joey Watkins during a news conference Friday.
According to the Georgia Innocence Project, authorities identified Watkins, along with his friend, Mark Free, as suspects after connecting them to a small blue Honda, which was seen engaging in “aggressive driving.” Watkins, accused of being behind the wheel, was charged with murder despite presenting an alibi that was later confirmed by cell phone records. Free, who was allegedly a passenger in the car, was acquitted on all charges.
In 2018, at a habeas hearing, which allows prisoners to petition courts to review the validity of their convictions, Watkins argued his case for release, citing newly discovered juror and prosecutorial misconduct. At trial, prosecutors presented cellphone location evidence that put Watkins and the blue car in the area at the time of Dawkins’ murder. According to the Rome News-Tribune, an out-of-court test was conducted by one of the jurors, who later admitted became a deciding factor in their decision to convict Watkins.
The Georgia Innocence Project said despite this new information about the test, Watkins’ petition was dismissed because of the amount of time that had elapsed since trial.
The Georgia Supreme Court later reversed this ruling, allowing the appeal to be heard.
“Over three days in February and March of 2022, Joey was finally able to argue to the Walker County Superior Court his conviction should be overturned due to compelling evidence of juror misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct,” the Georgia Innocence Project said.
On January 3, 2023, Watkins was granted a $75,000 bond on condition that he wear an ankle monitor. On Thursday, a formal notice of abandonment was filed, exonerating Watkins of murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm, and stalking. He has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2000.
Watkins’ story was the focus of season two of the Undisclosed podcast which looks into wrongful convictions within the United States justice system. The Georgia Innocence Project has credited the audio series with bringing attention to his case.
WATCH HIS FULL REMARKS HERE:
Copyright 2023 WANF. All rights reserved.