The Look in Brief

Nashville judge vacates 1987 convictions for child rape and murder

By: - January 6, 2022 12:56 pm
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A Nashville judge has vacated the convictions of a couple in the rape and murder of a 4-year-old child in 1987. 

Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton ruled in favor of Joyce Watkins and Charlie Dunn, both of whom had always proclaimed their innocence. Watkins served 27 years in prison before being paroled in October 2015 and remains on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry. Mr. Dunn died in prison in January 2015.

Davidson County Attorney General Glenn Funk, through his office’s Conviction Review Unit, and the Tennessee Innocence Project, petitioned the court to overturn the two convictions in December.

“This office strives to do justice always. That includes recognizing wrongful convictions occur and to remedy them when possible,” said Funk in a statement. “We can not give Joyce Watkins or Charlie Dunn back time, but we can restore their names. Their innocence demands it.”

Watkins, the child’s great aunt, had the child in her custody for only a matter of hours before discovering some of the girl’s injuries and taking her to the hospital. The child had tears to her vagina and perineum and died in the hospital of head injuries.


Neither Watkins nor Dunn, her long-time boyfriend, had prior criminal records. 

Dalton found there was no compelling scientific evidence Watkins or Dunn had committed the crimes. Methodology at the time of the trial tied the couple to bruises found on the girl’s body but Dr. Adele Lewis, Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Tennessee, testified in December that bruising is no longer considered an accurate indication of when injuries may have taken place. 

In her decision, Dalton also found prosecutors presented false and misleading information at the original trial and appeal, including the claim Watkins had washed a bed sheet to remove evidence of a crime. As documented in a report at the time by the Tennessee Department of Human Services, the sheet remained in Watkins’s home, unwashed and available for collection. 

The combination of “inaccurate medical opinions” coupled with incorrect circumstantial evidence “led the jury to and court to rely on inaccurate and misleading information,” wrote Dalton.


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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.