Tennessee Man on Deathbed Confesses to Murder, Then Recovers and Gets Life Sentence
Law enforcement is not able to solve every crime that is committed. When they are not able to collect enough clues to solve the case or they are not able to track down a suspect, the case grows cold. Every now and then, they will get a break in the case and it will be reopened. Nashville law enforcement authorities got the break they needed for 17-year-old unsolved murder case when a convict named James Washington confessed to the crime on his deathbed. Unfortunately for Washington, his misinterpretation of the law and miraculous recovery led to him getting convicted and sentenced for the murder.
In 2009, James Washington suffered a heart attack while serving time in prison for another unrelated crime. Washington believed he was going to die from the heart attack. When Washington was being transported to the hospital, he told one of the prison guards that he beat a woman to death. The prison guard informed police authorities about Washington’s confession.
In 1995, Nashville police investigated the murder of a woman named Joyce Goodener. Washington stabbed Goodener in the neck, bludgeoned her to death with a cinder block and set her body on fire. The police found Goodener’s body in an empty house.
Nashville police knew that Washington met with Goodener on the day of her murder. Washington was considered a “person of interest” in the case, but the police didn’t have enough evidence to press criminal charges against him. Since there were no other likely suspects, the murder remained unsolved for years.
Washington was never tried or punished for the crime and was seeking forgiveness when he made the confession. If Washington didn’t die, he assumed he was still safe from prosecution based on the mistaken belief that a statute of limitations applied to the case. He thought the statute of limitations ran out and it would prevent the government from pursuing a criminal case against him. In Tennessee as well as in other states, a statute of limitations isn’t usually applicable to serious criminal offenses such as murder.
After Washington made a full recovery from the heart attack, he tried to take back the confession. But it was too late. The confession was what law enforcement needed to reopen the Joyce Goodener’s murder case. Washington will now serve a life sentence after being convicted for Goodener’s murder. There is no indication that Washington ever spoke of the murder prior to his deathbed confession. If Washington didn’t make the confession to the prison guard, he could have served his time for the other crime and then been released from prison. But now he is serving a life sentence.
The value of speaking with a criminal defense attorney should never be underestimated. One of the most important rights a person has is the right to protect oneself against self-incrimination. This means that you should not reveal any information about a criminal case without your attorney present. Many people misinterpret laws or assume things will work in their favor and operate under the assumption that it will prevent them from being charged or convicted of a crime. Whenever you are facing the possibility of being charged with a crime, the stakes are too high to make decisions on your own without an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.