FLOYD COUNTY, Ga. — For the first time in more than 22 years, a Georgia man accused of murder walked outside of prison with his family as the fight to prove his innocence continues.

Joey Watkins was granted bond on Wednesday and embraced his parents as he was finally able to go home. A jury previously convicted Watkins in 2001 and a judge sentenced him to life in prison in the murder of 20-year-old Isaac Dawkins

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On the night of Jan. 11, 2000, Dawkins was driving in his truck along Hwy 27 in Rome, Georgia, when someone opened fire and shot him in the head. Dawkins died the next day. Watkins was 19 years old at the time.

The Georgia Innocence Project has been instrumental in fighting to prove Watkins' innocence. On Dec. 20, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously voted in favor of a new trial for Watkins. It granted him what is called habeas relief and vacated his 2001 conviction. However, his murder charge still stands, as of now.

RELATED: He's spent more than 20 years behind bars after his murder conviction. Georgia Supreme Court votes in favor of his retrial

According to the Georgia Innocence Project, Watkins' bond hearing took place on Tuesday morning before a Floyd County Superior Court judge. Both sides presented witnesses, as a lawyer working with GIP on the case argued that he should be freed from jail due to the fact that he did not present a risk to the community and would show up for retrial proceedings.

With this conviction subsequently overturned, he was then transferred back to the Floyd County Jail, where a hearing gave a judge the option to grant him bond. After the conclusion of the two-hour hearing, a $75,000 bond was granted in Watkins' favor, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.

Credit: Georgia Innocence Project
Joey Watkins hugs his parents after being granted bond and released from the Floyd County Jail.

Watkins was finally able to walk out from behind bars for the first time since he was arrested. Despite that, the fight to prove his innocence is not done yet. The Georgia Innocence Project stated that they and their co-counsel will "continue to fight for Joey Watkins."

Case history

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After Dawkins was killed from a gunshot wound to the head while driving in his truck, police made very little progress on the case. After new investigators were appointed, they quickly turned their focus to Joey Watkins and his friend.

They said Watkins was the alleged driver of a small blue car, and he was ultimately charged with murder about a year after the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, despite an alibi that was confirmed by cell phone records and other people and zero evidence that connected to him driving or being inside of a small blue car, according to the Georgia Innocence Project.

His case has been in the national spotlight – being featured on the popular podcast called "Undisclosed," which investigates wrongful convictions. 

Investigators with the podcast along with an attorney with the nonprofit Georgia Innocence Project previously claimed they uncovered evidence of a "juror's misconduct" during Watkins' initial trial.

Throughout the podcast, the producers also looked into cell phone records that led them to believe Watkins was on the other side of town – at the time of Dawkins' murder.

His friend who was the alleged shooter was eventually acquitted on all charges.

According to the Georgia Innocence Project, in 2018, lawyers with GIP argued that Watkins should be released from prison due to his presumed innocence and alleged prosecutorial and juror misconduct. The habeas case was dismissed by a judge who claimed that the request came too late.

It was later unanimously decided that Watkins' habeas appeal would be heard by the Georgia Supreme Court after they said it was not too late to bring his claims, a release from the Georgia Innocence Project said. 

Over multiple days in February and March of 2022, Watkins was able to argue in his defense of misconduct by prosecutors and jurors to the Walker County Superior Court. And on Dec. 20, 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court voted unanimously to give Watkins a new trial.


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