Joey Watkins

Years Lost: 22

Case Summary

Floyd County, GA | January 11, 2000

At 7:19 pm on January 11, 2000, Rome-Floyd County 911 dispatched an ambulance to the scene of a single-vehicle accident on Hwy 27, which runs between Rome and Cedartown, GA. The driver, 21-year-old Isaac Dawkins, was rushed to the hospital. X-rays would later reveal that Isaac had been shot in the head while he was driving; he died shortly thereafter. Police initially identified Joey Watkins as a suspect, since Joey had admittedly driven past the wreck scene that night, and Joey and Isaac both previously had argued over a girl named Brianne that they each dated on separate occasions. After conducting an investigation, the Rome Police Department eventually ruled Joey out as a suspect.

After months with little progress on the case, the victim’s family successfully petitioned to have Sergeant Stanley Sutton of the Floyd County Police Department take over the case. Although a very similar shooting had occurred a few miles away, and within minutes of when police first received reports of Isaac’s accident, and although Joey had an alibi, Sutton zeroed in on Joey Watkins. One day after taking over the case, the Floyd County Police Department posted $10,000 reward posters throughout the jail; the first jailhouse informant came forward within hours.

Twelve months after the crime, the State charged Joey and his friend, Mark Free, with Isaac’s murder. There were glaring issues with the State’s theory. One issue was that the man who witnessed the accident explained to police that he saw a small, older-model blue car interacting aggressively on the road with Isaac’s truck in the moments before the wreck. The night of the murder, however, Joey had driven his white pickup truck to see his girlfriend, Aislinn, who lived about 30 miles away in Cedartown, Georgia (he passed Isaac’s wreck and police cars on the way). He was seen by several witnesses departing in his white truck, and approximately 45 minutes later, several other witnesses saw him in Cedartown in his white truck.

 

The victim's pickup truck that tailed off the side of the highway following the murder.

Although Joey had been seen leaving home in his pickup truck, the State theorized that he met up with his friend Mark Free, switched from his white truck to the small, blue Honda, drove down to around Floyd College to either wait for or intercept Isaac as he drove home from college, engaged in aggressive driving with Dawkins, and then shot Dawkins through the back window of Dawkins’ truck while driving at 55+ miles per hour (and talking on the phone to his girlfriend Aislinn). According to the State, Joey then switched cars again and drove to his girlfriend’s house in Cedartown, where he arrived in his white truck. According to the State, Joey accomplished all of this in 45 minutes–the amount of time it would take him to drive straight from his house to his girlfriend’s house in Cedartown.

There was another major problem with the State’s theory. It is undisputed that Joey was using his cell phone in the time frame before, during, and after the crime. Cell phone and cell tower records, and expert testimony, placed him miles from the scene of the crime at the time of the shooting.

Despite all the problems with the State’s theory, Joey Watkins was sentenced to life in prison plus six years on July 2nd, 2001.

Eventually, Joey Watkins wrote to GIP and we began investigating his case. In 2016, the popular true-crime podcast Undisclosed also took an interest in Joey’s case and undertook an extensive investigation in conjunction with GIP, culminating in the discovery of new factual information establishing that Joey Watkins’ constitutional rights were violated. As a result of GIP and Undisclosed’s findings, GIP and co-counsel Ben Goldberg filed a habeas petition in early 2017 arguing that Joey should be released from prison because of recently discovered juror misconduct and official misconduct (the State’s concealment of exculpatory evidence and presentation of false or misleading evidence at trial).

In 2018, at a hearing on the procedural viability of Joey Watkins’ claims, Walker County Judge Don Thompson 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 let us appeal and to correct Judge Thompson’s erroneous order.

After reconsidering their initial decision denying our request, the Georgia Supreme Court heard our appeal and decided the case was improperly dismissed.

In its opinion, linked here, the Court concluded that “Watkins has alleged facts showing grounds for relief which could not reasonably have been raised in his original habeas petition and which could not have been discovered by the reasonable exercise of due diligence.”

The Court reversed the dismissal of Joey’s petition and remanded the case to the habeas court, where Joey would finally be able to present the merits of his petition on juror misconduct and official misconduct.

After years of litigation and a three-day hearing in February/March 2022 where Joey’s legal team presented evidence supporting claims that Joey’s constitutional rights were violated, Walker County Superior Court Judge Don Thompson GRANTED Joey Watkins' Habeas Corpus Petition on April 11th, 2022. Judge Thompson’s order overturned Joey’s conviction and granted him a new trial.

The State Attorney General appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, who heard oral arguments from both sides October 4, 2022. The Court agreed Joey’s constitutional rights were violated and affirmed the lower court's decision to vacate Joey's conviction on December 20, 2022.

At that point, Joey’s case went to a pre-trial posture as the Floyd County District Attorney’s office had the discretion to prosecute him again for the same crimes.  Noah Pines then joined the legal team for retrial.  In January 2023, Joey was granted bond and was released from prison. On September 21, 2023, he was exonerated after the DA chose not to proceed with charges against him. On that day, Joey’s ankle monitor was cut off and he was finally free, over 22 years after his nightmare began. 

You can hear Joey’s story on the second season of the Undisclosed podcast.

Fast Facts

Charges

Murder
Possession of a Firearm
Stalking

Conviction Factors

Official Misconduct

Floyd

County

2001

Conviction

Life + 6

Sentence

22

Years Served

2023

Exoneration

Updates

/ Case Update, General

Looking Back as the Fiscal Year Ends!

Lee Clark embraces his uncle after being released from jail. As a fellow traveler in the mission to end wrongful ...
/ Case Update

Joey Watkins Granted Bond

Joey Watkins embraces his parents immediately after being released from Floyd County Jail We wanted to share some good news ...
/ News

22 years later, Georgia man awaiting retrial for murder charge walks out of prison after bond granted

22 years later, Georgia man awaiting retrial for murder charge walks out of prison after bond granted Outlet: 11Alive Author: ...
/ News

Judge grants Watkins $75,000 bond after conviction overturned

Judge grants Watkins $75,000 bond after conviction overturned Outlet: Rome News-Tribune Author: John Bailey Published: 1/3/2023 Read: Here ...
/ News

Bond hearing for Watkins scheduled after high court overturns conviction

Bond hearing for Watkins scheduled after high court overturns conviction Outlet: Rome News-Tribune Author: John Bailey Published: 12/31/2022 Read: Here ...
/ Case Update, General

Joey Watkins: One Step Closer to Freedom

On December 20th, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously affirmed Habeas relief for Joey Watkins. This favorable opinion comes after ...
/ Case Update, General

GA SUPREME COURT UNANIMOUSLY AFFIRMS HABEAS RELIEF FOR JOEY WATKINS

Convicted of murder in Floyd County in 2001, Watkins has maintained his innocence from the beginning and gained national attention ...
/ News

Georgia Supreme Court Affirms Judges Ruling to Overturn Watkins Murder Conviction

Georgia Supreme Court Affirms Judges Ruling to Overturn Watkins Murder Conviction Outlet: Rome News-Tribune Author: David Crowder Published: 12/20/2022 Read: ...
/ News

He’s spent more than 20 years behind bars after his murder conviction. Georgia Supreme Court votes in favor of his retrial

He’s spent more than 20 years behind bars after his murder conviction. Georgia Supreme Court votes in favor of his ...
/ News

High court hears AG appeal from Watkins case

High court hears AG appeal from Watkins case Outlet: Rome News-TribuneAuthor: John BaileyPublished: 10/4/2022Read: Here ...