On January 11, 2000, 19-year-old Joey Watkins of Rome, GA spent the afternoon fishing with his uncle, just over the Alabama state line. He got back home at 6:45 p.m., took a shower, and called his girlfriend Aislinn Hogue. Aislinn was home sick in bed, but the two had spent the day checking in with each other via beepers, cell phones and land lines. Joey had called Aislinn to wake her up for school that morning, and he called her again at 7:15 that night as he got into his white truck and headed south to visit Aislinn, who lived 30 miles away in Cedartown.  

Cell phone records would later show that Joey’s call to Aislinn lasted 4 minutes and 23 seconds, ending as late as7:20:22 p.m. Joey then made some more calls to plan a fishing trip the next day. As he continued to Aislinn’s, a passing ambulance’s flashing lights stood out against the night sky. Minutes later, traffic slowed on Highway 27, a police officer directed cars into one lane, and Joey passed a wreck. He noticed that the damaged truck looked like that of his former high school classmate, 21-year-old Isaac Dawkins.

Concerned that Isaac had been injured, Joey called his sister, Tandi, who was a close friend of Isaac’s younger sister, in case she wanted to alert Isaac’s family about the wreck. Tandi declined, and Joey continued on his way. After stopping to get her a drink, Joey arrived at Aislinn’s house around 8 p.m., still in his white truck. He spent two hours with Aislinn, and drove home at around 10 p.m., passing the wreck again on the way.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the Rome Police Department learned that what first looked like a single-car traffic accident was something far more sinister. According to the police department, the truck’s driver, Isaac Dawkins, had been on his way home from a college class when, at 7:18 pm, someone shot at him through his truck’s rear window, striking him in the head. The police had spent over an hour and a half processing what they thought was a run-of-the-mill accident before they realized Isaac Dawkins had a bullet in his brain.

Detective Moser of the Rome Police Department went to the hospital that same night. When he asked Isaac’s friends and family who might have done this, they initially were hard-pressed for suspects. Isaac was a clean-cut, deer-hunting, God-fearing young man who seemed to have no enemies. Could it have been Isaac’s sister’s boyfriend, given that Isaac vocally disapproved of their relationship? Maybe the shooter made a mistake? Maybe Joey Watkins? In the past, Joey had fought with Isaac over Joey’s ex-girlfriend, Brianne Scarber, who Isaac briefly dated. Joey was hot-tempered, a friend of Isaac’s told Detective Moser. So Detective Moser began to investigate.

It seemed that during the summer of 1999, Joey was a small-town teenage bully who’d convinced himself that the end of his relationship with Brianne was a greater loss than he could stand. Joey’s temper didn’t just flare up at the sight of one of Brianne’s new boyfriends; he picked fights with anyone he felt had done him wrong. Sometimes they came to blows, but often it was mere puffery.  By fall, however, even Joey had moved on, and by January 2000 he was several months into his new relationship with Aislinn Hogue.

In time, the Rome Police Department shifted its focus away from Joey as a suspect, as it appeared that Joey did not in fact commit the crime. But, unfortunately for Joey, Detective Moser’s investigation also failed to yield any likelier suspects, or even to reveal a plausible explanation for the events surrounding Isaac’s death.

Frustrated with the Rome PD’s lack of progress with the case, Isaac Dawkins’ family successfully petitioned to have their friend Stanley Sutton, a sergeant with the Floyd County Police Department, assigned full-time to the case. When Sutton came on board, he made no secret of his suspicion that Joey Watkins was responsible Isaac’s death. One of the first actions Sgt. Sutton took was to post reward posters throughout the jail. Within hours, the first jailhouse “witness” came forward.

This is only the beginning of the story. How Joey Watkins came to be convicted of the murder of Isaac Dawkins—and how the Georgia Innocence Project came to take his case, and is currently working to prove his innocence and secure his release—is a story that Undisclosed, a podcast that previously delved into the trial and conviction of Adnan Syed, will unfold during its hotly anticipated second season.

The entire story involves an investigation that coupled a profound lack of physical evidence with a flood of gossip, and a trial that took place in a small community where many potential jurors knew the case’s key players. It includes missing evidence, jailhouse snitches, dead dogs, teenage love triangles, ill-prepared and disbarred attorneys, overlooked alternate suspects, an imprisoned investigator, a district attorney fighting for a judicial appointment, an acquitted co-defendant, and two heartbroken families, each coping with the loss of a beloved son.

For GIP, however, this is a story about Joey Watkins: a typical teenage boy who, due to a perfect storm of events, found himself imprisoned for life with virtually no legal options left, short of discovering who actually committed the murder sixteen years ago.

In our collaboration with Undisclosed, we hope to give Joey the voice to tell his story, and to shed light on the systemic problems that not only led to his conviction, but have resulted in the convictions of an untold number of other innocent defendants. Yet, as crucial and as compelling as it is, telling the story of how Joey ended up in prison is only one small part of our work at the Georgia Innocence Project. It is our duty not just to chronicle the past, but to change the future. Today, it is up to us to write a new chapter in Joey’s story by securing his freedom, and it is up to you to help us.  

Listen to Season 2 of the Undisclosed podcast and take action to free Joey Watkins and the other imprisoned innocent.

For questions about Georgia Innocence Project’s work with the Undisclosed, please contact podcast@georgiainnocenceproject.org

Convicted of: Murder, Possession of Firearm During Crime and Stalking

Sentence: Life plus 5 years plus 12 months

Years Served: 15 and counting

Co-Defendant: Alleged shooter - Acquitted

Current Attorneys: GIP and Volunteer Attorney Ben Goldberg