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Joyce Watkins

In January of this year, 74-year-old Joyce Watkins was exonerated in a Nashville courtroom after spending more than 27 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She and her boyfriend, Charlie Dunn, were wrongly convicted of aggravated rape and felony murder in the 1987 death of her four-year-old great-niece, Brandi. Dunn passed away behind bars while awaiting parole.

Inaccurate medical opinions of the case, presented in the context of erroneous circumstantial evidence, led the jury and court to rely on inaccurate and misleading information in the conviction.

Jason Gichner, Senior Legal Counsel, led the Tennessee Innocence Project team, which collaborated with the Davidson County District Attorney's Conviction Review Unity in the pursuit of justice on this specific case.

Not only was Joyce exonerated, but the medical examiner that provided the testimony was barred from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime laboratory, and his contract as a state medical examiner was terminated. 

Joyce is the first black woman to ever be exonerated in the state and only the third woman in Tennessee history.

Now, she serves as a spokesperson and activist, bringing awareness to criminal justice reform and the importance of non-profits such as the Tennessee Innocence Project and Equal Justice Initiative.