Georgia man released after 22 years for wrongful conviction

A man from Floyd County, Georgia was relieved after spending more than two decades behind bars following a wrongful murder conviction.

Joey Watkins, now in his early forties, was sentenced to life plus six years in prison on July 2, 2001, for the 2000 murder of 21-year-old Isaac Dawkins.

He has been behind bars for 22 years and has protested his innocence.

On January 11, 2000, Dawkins was found with a gunshot wound to the head after being shot while driving on Highway 27 between Rome and Cedartown.

He was taken to hospital where he later died.

A witness to the incident told police she saw a blue car on the road along with Dawkins' vehicle shortly before his death.

Mr. Watkins initially became a suspect after admitting to Rome police that he had driven past Dawkins' vehicle on the night of the murder.

He also revealed that the two both dated the same woman named Brianne.

The police initially ruled him out.

Mr. Watkins had an alibi confirmed by cell phone records and witness statements that did not place him on Highway 27 when the crime occurred.

Instead, he told investigators that he drove his white pickup truck to Cedartown and simply passed Dawkins' wrecked car on the way.

The Georgia Innocence Project worked for years to prove his innocence and overturn his conviction

(YouTube/11Alive)

But months later, when no progress was made in the case, Dawkins' family asked for an officer to take over the investigation.

That officer then again pursued a murder charge against Mr. Watkins and he was convicted at trial.

The state of Georgia also charged Mark Free with Dawkins' murder, but he was acquitted on all charges.

While in prison, Mr. Watkins wrote to the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) to overturn his conviction and released a true crime podcast in 2016 Not announcedcovered the case.

According to GIP, this culminated in the “discovery of new factual information demonstrating that Joey Watkins’ constitutional rights were violated” during his trial.

His co-counsel Ben Goldberg filed a habeas petition in 2017 saying he should be released based on new evidence of jury misconduct and official misconduct.

However, in 2018, the petition was dismissed by Walker County Judge Don Thompson, who ruled that Mr. Watkins was too late to file it.

The GIP appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, which ruled that the case had been unfairly dismissed and remanded it to the habeas court, giving Mr. Watkins the opportunity to make his argument that it was at the original trial was about misconduct by both jurors and officials.

After a three-day hearing, on April 11, 2022, Walker County Superior Court Judge Don Thompson vacated Mr. Watkins' conviction and granted him a new trial.

Later that year, on December 20, 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his conviction and allowed him to be eligible for $75,000 bail after a successful hearing before Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryan Johnson .

In a statement at the time, the GIP said, “We are grateful that Judge Johnson granted Joey a bond so he can be home with his family, and we look forward to the opportunity to prove his innocence.”

Then, this Thursday, District Attorney Leigh Patterson finally filed suit “Nolle prosequi” application which ended all legal proceedings against Mr Watkins – leaving him now a free man.