Joey Watkins embraces his parents immediately after being released from Floyd County Jail
We wanted to share some good news to kick off the new year! For the first time in more than 22 years, last night Joey Watkins went to sleep outside of prison walls- safe and at home with his family.
But while we are thrilled that Joey is finally home, the battle to prove his innocence isn’t over yet.
In case you missed the latest update, on December 20th, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Walker County Superior Court’s April 11 order granting Joey habeas relief, vacating his 2001 conviction. With his conviction overturned, Joey was then transferred back to Floyd County, where he became eligible for bond —a pretrial release mechanism—and a hearing was set for a judge to decide whether Joey should be released from jail pending projected retrial proceedings.
Joey’s bond hearing took place yesterday morning before Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryan Johnson At the hearing, both sides presented witnesses, and GIP plus co-counsel Ben Goldberg and Noah Pines, were there to support Joey and argue that he should be freed from incarceration because he does not pose a risk to the community and he would return for a retrial, should there be one.
At the end of the two-hour hearing, the judge ruled in Joey’s favor and granted him a bond of $75,000. You can read more details about the hearing in the Rome News-Tribune.
So what does all of this mean for Joey?
While his original conviction has been overturned and he has been released from custody, his battle to prove his innocence is not over. As always, GIP and our co-counsel will continue to fight for Joey Watkins.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for your support over the years! You helped us #freeJoeyWatkins, now we must work to secure #justiceforJoey once and for all.
GIP Case History
On January 11th, 2000, 21-year-old Isaac Dawkins was shot in the head while driving his truck northbound on a highway near Rome, GA. He later died from his injuries. After months of little progress on the investigation, new investigators took over and quickly zeroed in on Joey Watkins and his friend, Mark Free, as the people responsible for the shooting. Joey, the alleged driver of a small blue car, was charged with murder about a year after the crime and was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison, despite an alibi confirmed by cell phone records and several people—and no evidence linking him to a small blue car. Mark Free, the alleged shooter and passenger in the small blue car, was tried separately and promptly acquitted on all charges.
In 2018, GIP and Goldberg argued at a habeas hearing that Joey should be released from prison because of his innocence and recently-discovered juror and prosecutorial misconduct. But instead of hearing the merits of the claim, the judge dismissed Joey’s habeas petition at the State’s request, finding that Joey was too late to bring his claims and that he could not bring them in a second habeas petition.
GIP asked the Georgia Supreme Court to allow an appeal and to correct the habeas court’s erroneous order.
After reconsidering their initial decision denying the request, the Georgia Supreme Court heard Joey’s appeal and unanimously decided that he was not too late to bring his claims and that his case should go back down to the habeas court for a hearing on the merits of his claims. 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.
This time, Judge Don Thompson agreed with Joey and granted the habeas petition on Monday, April 11, 2022.
The State (Georgia’s Attorney General) appealed the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court on May 3, 2022.
On January 3rd, 2023, a Floyd County Superior Court judge ruled in Joey’s favor and granted him a bond of $75,000.