The Georgia Innocence Project has filed a request for a new trial for a Rome man convicted of murder, alleging the state withheld evidence and a juror acted inappropriately.
The group filed the petition this week in Walker County on behalf of Joey Watkins, who was convicted in Floyd County of the murder of Isaac Dawkins in 2001.
The habeas corpus petition was filed with the warden of Walker State Prison because that’s where Watkins is serving his sentence.
The Watkins case has been subject of the Undisclosed audio podcast series. In Undisclosed, attorneys Rabia Chaudry and Susan Simpson along with college professor Colin Miller attempt to find new witnesses and evidence to help people they believe have been wrongly convicted.
In that trial, evidence indicated Watkins’ cellphone was used to show his whereabouts at the time of the murder.
The defense presented an expert witness who said it was “scientifically impossible” Watkins had been present at the crime scene.
“This evidence alone initially convinced at least one juror that reasonable doubt of (Watkins’) guilt existed,” the filing stated.
But then that juror, Rogena Cordle, admitted that during the trial she did her own tests by driving around the area of the crime.
“I drove along the route he was supposed to have driven and watched the clock on my car to see if it was possible for Mr. Watkins to have driven the relevant distance within the possible time frame,” Cordle wrote in an affidavit.
It was based on that test that she decided to convict Watkins, the filing stated. Jurors are supposed to make a determination of guilt in a trial based solely on evidence presented in the court, the filing stated.
The state also withheld evidence concerning a dog found near Dawkins’ grave nearly two months after his death, according to the defense.
The prosecutor asserted that Watkins shot the dog in the head and placed it on Dawkins’ grave.
Watkins’ attorneys objected to the introduction of the dog into the trial and asked if any reports were generated or if a bullet had been recovered.
At that time, the filing states, the prosecuting attorney said no reports had been generated and the bullet was not extracted.
Georgia Innocence Project Interim Director Clare Gilbert identified the prosecuting attorney mentioned in the filing as then Floyd County District Attorney and now Judge Tami Colston.
However, Watkins’ defense alleges there was a report from a medical examiner and the bullet had been extracted from the dog.
“Significantly, and contrary to the prosecuting attorney’s and GBI’s representations, the bullet was extracted from the dog and the caliber identified,” the filing stated. “The caliber of bullet in grave dog did not match the caliber of bullet used in the murder.”
They also assert the state did not disclose a drive test, or the results of that test, conducted by law enforcement officers using cellphone data.
Watkins’ attorneys stated in the filing they feel that evidence may have been beneficial to him in trial.
Watkins has filed several appeals and has challenged his conviction in the past.
Up to this point, all of Watkins’ attempts to appeal or overturn his conviction through both the Georgia Supreme Court and federal courts have failed.