A Nashville man who made a dramatic deathbed murder confession, only to ultimately survive, has been found guilty following an emotional trial.
On July 5, 1995, the body of Joyce Goodener was pulled out of an empty house on Ashland City Highway.
She had been stabbed in the neck, set on fire and beaten with, of all things, a gray cinder block.
Investigators said the case grew hopelessly cold, and there wasn't even a DNA sample they could tie to a suspect.
James Washington appeared to have gotten away with the crime, but then came his unexpected, unbelievable confession. Then, after trying to take it back, Washington has been found guilty of first-degree murder.
Goodener's family again listened to the gruesome details of their loved one's death this week, but in many ways they were glad to be in court.
It all seemed impossible until an unexpected phone call in 2009.
"I didn't have any trust in the system. All of a sudden, I got this phone call and they said, 'We think we found him,'" said Goodener's daughter, Sonya Kimbrell.
Washington had a heart attack while in jail for an unrelated crime, and he thought he was about to die. Lying in his hospital bed, he desperately looked for a confessor and found one in guard James Tomlinson.
"He kind of got as best as he could, motioned, and said, 'I have something to tell you. I have to get something off my conscience and you need to hear this.' He said, 'I killed somebody. I beat her to death,'" Tomlinson said.
So, prosecutors were handed the most improbable testimony. Washington was always considered a person of interest, as he knew the victim and admitted he saw her the day she died. But there was never any real evidence until Washington provided it himself.
That is, until his health improved and he changed his mind. But it was too late, and Washington will now serve an automatic life sentence of at least 51 years in prison.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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