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An American woman and her late boyfriend were exonerated of the rape and murder of her four-year-old niece in 1987 after nearly 30 years in prison.
Joyce Watkins, 74, was found guilty of raping and murdering her great-niece Brandi in 1988.
According to police and prosecutors, she and her boyfriend, Charles Dunn, brutalized the girl until she died in their care.
Watkins, then 38, drove Brandi to a hospital in Nashville 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.
Brandi, who was unconscious at the time, was raped and died as a result of injuries sustained during the nine hours she was in the care of Watkins and her boyfriend, according to a doctor.
Dunn, also known as Charlie, died in prison in 2015, while Watkins was released the following year after serving a 27-year sentence.
Following an appeal from The Innocence Project that called the doctor’s analysis of when Brandi was raped and injured into question, a judge overturned their convictions on Wednesday, Dunn’s posthumously.
It was discovered that no evidence of when the girl was brutalized existed, and that the doctor made the claim based on marks on Brandi’s skin rather than any internal injuries.
The girl’s then-19-year-old male cousin, who was enlisted in the Marines at the time, may have raped and beaten her, according to a report by the Nashville Criminal Review Unit.
Nobody else has been arrested in connection with the crime, and it’s unclear whether he’s still alive.
‘It’s been a long struggle, but I want to thank the DA’s office,’ Watkins said after the hearing.
I’d like to thank Mr. Gichner of the Tennessee Innocence Project, as well as everyone else, for their prayers and help in getting me out of this mess that has cost me half my life for nothing.’
‘It’s a bittersweet day,’ Jackie Dunn, Charlie Dunn’s daughter, said. I wish my father was here to witness this special occasion. He was well aware that he was innocent. He was well aware that he had not committed the crimes in question. His mother, two brothers, a sister, and a son had all died. So many people were killed, and he was completely blameless. He died in a place where he had no right to be.’
Brandi had bruises while in the care of Marine’s mother, Rose Williams, according to the report, and she had been reported to social services.
Brandi’s mother, Louis Lockhart, has long been a supporter of Watkins. She stated on Wednesday that she did not believe she was to blame for her daughter’s death.