If you have a last-minute deathbed confession, one last burden of guilt to release before your soul sails free from this mortal coil, make sure you really are going to die, or things could get awkward. James Washington faces more than a bit of awkward embarrassment; he faces 51 years in prison for having confessed to murder.
Washington was already in prison serving a 15-year sentence for second-degree murder. In 2009 he suffered a seizure attack, had a heart attack, and felt certain he had mere moments to live. That’s why he gestured for the prison guard to hear him.
“He kind of got as best 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,’” explained James Tomlinson, the prison guard. “He said ‘I killed somebody. I beat her to death.’”
Tomlinson repeated these words in court last week during a three-day trial in which Washington was ultimately convicted of murder, receiving a sentence of at least 51 years. The crime had been horrific: the 1995 cold case regarded a woman, Joyce Goodener, who was found stabbed in the neck and beaten with a cinderblock before being set on fire. Lacking any DNA evidence, no charges could be made, though Washington was a suspect.
He had recanted of his confession when he was revived from the heart attack. Susan Niland with the Davidson County District Attorney General explained the situation to ABCNews: “[He] did take the confession back, and during the closing arguments at the trial there was indication that he was hallucinating … The defense had presented proof earlier in trial as to what effect of the drugs he had taken were having on him.”
Such a gambit failed to convince, nevertheless, and Washington ended up getting what he really wanted: the truth to be known.