Man wrongly convicted 4 decades ago freed from prison

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After 36 years, Joseph Sledge’s unfamiliar feeling: normal.

WHITEVILLE, N.C.: For the third time in less than six months, a North Carolina inmate was exonerated by DNA evidence and freed after spending decades in prison for a wrongful murder conviction.Jan. 23, 2015: Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, left, and Cheryl Sullivan, staff attorney, hug Joseph Sledge after a special session of superior court in Whiteville, N.C. (AP) Joseph Sledge was set free Friday after a three-judge panel found that he was innocent of a 1976 killing of a mother and a daughter.

LAKE WACCAMAW Joseph Sledge looked out across Lake Waccamaw on Friday afternoon, shivering against a cold January rain and trying to embrace an unfamiliar feeling: normal. After he was released, Sledge said he was really looking forward to going home and doing the “most mundane” things: “Going home, relaxing and sleeping in a real bed.” The lawyer who took his case in 2004, Christine Mumma, said she had been on the verge of closing the case in 2012 when court clerks discovered a misplaced envelope containing hair from the crime scene while cleaning out an evidence vault.

Jon David, the Columbus County district attorney, made their decision swift and easy; David told judges he had become convinced that Sledge was innocent. THey were found in their home in Elizabethtown a day after Sledge had escaped from a prison work farm where ha was serving a four-year sentence for larceny. Baker said he lied at the 1978 trial after being promised leniency in his own drug case and he said he’d been coached by authorities on what to say. Katherine Brown, the granddaughter and niece of the victims, said Friday during the hearing that the women were humble and considerate people who looked after other family members.

The best it had – microscopic hair comparison – could only determine that Sledge’s pubic hair was consistent with pieces left on one victim’s exposed torso. Mumma, who first encountered Sledge’s case a decade ago, has had a hard time swallowing all of the ways the criminal justice system failed Sledge – and the amount of time it took to make it right. During two decades, Sledge sent dozens of letters to judges, police officials and prosecutors asking that they find and test evidence from his case for DNA.

By happenstance, a Columbus County clerk climbed a ladder in late 2012 while cleaning the evidence vault; she found an envelope flat on the top shelf with the missing hairs. Commission staff discovered crime scene evidence and investigators’ notes that local sheriff’s deputies had said for years had been lost or destroyed.

He embraced his long-lost sister, Barbara Kinlaw, and brother, Oscar Sledge, and couldn’t get over how they would drop everything and come get him after all these years.

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