A Superior Court judge has sentenced Joey Watkins to life in prison plus five years for the January 2000 murder and stalking of Isaac Dawkins.
After deliberating a half day Saturday and two hours Monday morning, a Floyd County jury convicted Watkins of felony murder, aggravated assault, a weapons violation and misdemeanor stalking. He was acquitted of a malice murder charge.
Judge Walter J. Matthews polled jurors after the verdict, with each confirming a vote for conviction.
“He has shown a pattern of conduct that demonstrates a total disregard for human rights,” said District Attorney Tami Colston in requesting a stiff sentence. “Where there is no remorse there should be no mercy.”
Dawkins, 20, was fatally shot in the head Jan. 11, 2000, as he drove home from Floyd College on U.S. 27. His truck veered off the road and through oncoming traffic before slamming into the woods.
The Dawkins family accepted the conviction in silence, huddling together after the sentence was read.
“Our family would like to express our utmost gratitude to the detectives and district attorney’s office for their hard work to bring this case to a close,” said Sammy Dawkins, father of the victim.
“We would also like to thank everyone for their prayers, but most of all we thank God,” he said.
Colston said the verdict was a relief, adding Watkins’ pattern of conduct is dangerous and he should be locked away from the public.
“I was counting on our justice system and jury to see to do that,” she said.
The trial was one of her toughest, Colston said, “but it has been such a pleasure to get to know Isaac during my preparation.”
Throughout the trial defense attorneys and family members said Watkins was innocent and was nowhere near the scene when the victim was murdered.
“Our son has been railroaded,” said Watkins’ father, Johnny. “We will be back in court and it will be proven.”
“He is not guilty of this crime,” echoed his mother, Cindy. “They had no evidence at all.”
Watkins, who did not testify during the weeklong trial, did speak when given a chance by the judge.
“I will say this till the day I die that I had nothing to do with that man getting shot on (U.S.) 27,” Watkins said.
“I have been through mortal hell for the past year and a half of my life and I prayed to God that I could come in this courtroom and get a justified verdict,” he said.
“I have had nothing to do with this,” he said, his voice cracking and tears falling.
Watkins said he grew up with Dawkins, giving him less reason to have killed him.
“I had two confrontations with Isaac Dawkins in my life that were bad,” he said. “I had no reason whatsoever to harm him in that way.”
He said his arrest and conviction resulted from vicious rumors that wrongly implicated him.
“I lived with my head hung down,” Watkins said. “I did not go to town and I did not do anything anymore because people looked at me and said I killed this man.
“I had nothing to do with it — nothing, and I will say it till the day I die.”
The defendant said he felt sorry for the Dawkins family.
“They can send me to prison but I just want the family to know that justice has not been done,” he said.
“I prayed every night and day that the truth would come out,” Watkins said, “I had no reason to do this — none.
“I will be back in court because I’m not guilty of this.”
After his remarks, Watkins was taken away by deputies.
Judge Matthews said Watkins has 30 days to appeal. Defense attorneys Rex Abernathy and William O’Dell said they will file an appeal today.
“Mr. O’Dell and I have both talked about it, and we believe in our client (Watkins),” Abernathy said. “We believe in our expert evidence and testimony and that our client has not committed this crime,” he said. “More than that we believe the evidence was not in this case.”
Watkins’ co-defendant Mark Free, who faces identical charges when he stands trial July 6, will be represented by Abernathy and O’Dell.
“We also believe in our jury system,” Abernathy said. “Sometimes miscarriages of justice happen for reasons we don’t know.”
O’Dell said the emotions of the trial were likely a factor in Watkins’ conviction.
“This is a case where the jury viewed Mr. Watkins as being a troublesome bad boy, and that completely overshadowed the real evidence in the case,” he added.