Nov. 6, 2012— -- A Nashville inmate has been convicted of murder after he confessed to a brutal 1995 crime while recovering from a seizure attack in prison, telling a guard he had something to get off his chest.
James Washington, 50, was convicted last week of the murder of Joyce Goodener, a 35-year-old Nashville woman who was found dead by firefighters inside an abandoned home 17 years ago. According to authorities, Goodener was stabbed, beaten with a cinder block, rolled in a rug and set on fire.
Washington, who was already in prison serving a 15-year sentence for a 2006 attempted second-degree murder conviction, suffered an attack of seizures in 2009. While laid up in the hospital, he confessed his involvement in the murder of Goodener to one of the few people near him, prison guard James Tomlinson.
Prison officials brought the confession to prosecutors, who moved to indict Washington for the crime.
"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 told the court last week.
Tomlinson testified in court last week that once Washington had confessed to him, he immediately told his supervisor.
Susan Niland with the Davidson County District Attorney General told ABCNews.com that once Washington recovered from the heart attack, he recanted the confession.
"[He] did take the confession back, and during 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."
Investigators reportedly long suspected Washington of the murder, but the case went cold over a lack of evidence. Police investigating the case did not even have a DNA sample from the crime scene.
"There was indication that he'd known her for some time -- it was enough where they spent time together. There may have had a sexual relationship," Niland said.
Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Rob McGuire told ABCNews.com that Washington had been scheduled for trial a year ago, and over the past few he has been under mental evaluation.
The court heard that when Goodener's body was found, her nose bone was broken and appeared to have been flattened by a blunt object. Her cheekbone was also broken, as was the skull in many places.
After a three-day trial last week Washington was convicted of murder. McGuire said that he will receive an automatic life sentence of at least 51 years at his hearing, which is scheduled for December 7.