James Washington suffered a heart attack in prison in 2009 and thought he was dying. So he made a jailhouse confession thinking he would escape the statute of limitations.
The problem for Washington: He lived through the heart attack.
On his way to the hospital, Washington told a transport guard that he'd killed someone. He specifically mentioned that he "beat her to death." That was enough for prosecutors to link him to a cold case murder from 1995.
Washington had originally been a "person of interest" in that killing, but there wasn't enough evidence to implicate him. His confession provided the necessary information that investigators needed.
Back in 1995, a woman named Joyce Goodener was found murdered in Nashville. She was discovered in an empty house with stab wounds in her neck. She'd obviously been set on fire and bludgeoned with a cinder block, reports the New York Daily News.
At the time, police thought Washington may have been involved, but they didn't have enough information to charge him with the crime. The case went unresolved until last month.
Washington made his confession hoping to get some kind of absolution, but he ended up fully recovering from his heart attack. After leaving the hospital, he tried to take back his confession, to no avail. Based on his statements and other evidence, he was convicted of murdering Goodener in late October.
When he had the heart attack, Washington was already serving time behind bars for an unrelated crime. Following his latest conviction, he now faces up to 51 years in prison for a crime that took place 17 years ago.
Some crimes have a statute of limitations, meaning the offense cannot be prosecuted after a certain amount of time has passed. But those rarely apply to crimes of violence, in particular rape, murder, and arson.
Murder in particular has no statute in limitations in any state. A cold case can be prosecuted at any time if evidence turns up.
Washington took a risk when he got the confession off his chest, and it went poorly for him in the end. But his confession did bring some relief for Goodener's surviving daughter, reports the Daily Mail. She'd lost her faith in the justice system, but now her mother's killer is finally behind bars.
- James Washington gives deathbed confession to crime, but lives and now gets life (The Global Dispatch)
- DNA and Cold Cases: Indicting John Doe (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Cold Case Murder, Rape Solved After 36 Years (FindLaw's Blotter)