On December 20th, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously affirmed Habeas relief for Joey Watkins.
This favorable opinion comes after years of ongoing litigation, most recently including oral arguments in front of the Georgia Supreme Court on October 4th and a three-day evidentiary hearing in Walker County in February and March. At the evidentiary hearing, Joey’s attorneys presented evidence establishing that Joey’s conviction is unconstitutional because of juror misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct (Brady and Napue issues). A Walker County Superior Court Judge agreed and granted Joey’s habeas petition, but an appeal from the Georgia Attorney General sent the case to be heard before the Georgia Supreme court for the third time in the case’s history.
In this most recent opinion, Justice Pinson wrote:
“During Joseph Watkins’s murder trial, a juror conducted a “drive test” during a break in deliberations to see whether the defendant could have been physically present at the time and place the victim was shot. The next day, the jury voted to convict Watkins of felony murder and other crimes, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Years later, Watkins’s counsel learned about the juror’s misconduct and filed the habeas petition in this case. The habeas court ultimately granted relief on the juror-misconduct claim and two other grounds. We conclude that Watkins has shown that the juror’s misconduct caused him actual prejudice—for at least that juror, her drive test “proved” a key and heavily disputed piece of the State’s burden of proof against Watkins—and we affirm the grant of habeas relief on the juror-misconduct claim.”
As many of you know, we have been fighting this case for many years (our petition was filed almost six years ago now!) in the very tough jurisdiction of Rome/Floyd County, Georgia—where just last week, GIP client Lee Clark and his co-defendant Josh Storey were freed after 25 years of wrongful conviction. And while today is a big win for Joey, the fight isn’t over yet.
What happens now?
The State has ten days to file a motion for reconsideration, asking the Supreme Court of Georgia to undo its decision. If the State does not file a motion for reconsideration, or if the Supreme Court of Georgia denies such a motion by the State, a remittitur will be issued, and Joey will be transferred back to Floyd County—where we expect he will proceed toward a retrial.