This week, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission will begin examining the case of Joseph Sledge, 70, who was convicted of a double-murder in 1978.
For more than 30 years, Sledge has denied involvement in the murders of Josephine and Ailene Davis, whose bodies were discovered on September 6, 1976. Earlier that day, Sledge had escaped from a nearby prison after a fellow inmate threatened his life. Police immediately made the connection between the gruesome murders and Sledge’s escape, but evidence tested in 2012 (and which law enforcement officials initially claimed had been discarded) including a bloody footprint, a handprint and DNA from hair found on the bodies, does not match to Sledge.
Of the two witnesses who testified during Sledge’s trial, one initially denied Sledge had confessed to him, only changing his story after being offered a deal in his own criminal case. He has since died. The other witness, Herman Baker, recanted shortly after the trial, saying he lied because police offered him a monetary reward. Baker will testify during the hearing this week.
The eight-member Commission, founded in 2006, will hear evidence from Sledge’s case, and if they agree it merits further review, a panel of three judges will determine if he should be freed and exonerated. If he is found innocent, Sledge will be the longest-serving wrongfully convicted person in North Carolina history.
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