Crime

Hearing set for Friday in Joseph Sledge’s innocence case

Joseph Sledge, photographed at Pamlico Correctional Institution Thursday, February 28, 2013.
Joseph Sledge, photographed at Pamlico Correctional Institution Thursday, February 28, 2013. News & Observer file photo

After more than three decades of begging and pleading, Joseph Sledge could be declared innocent and set free Friday.

A three-judge panel will convene in Columbus County to take up Sledge’s claim of innocence. The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously in December that Sledge’s case merited further review by three judges who have the power to exonerate Sledge of a 1976 double murder and set him free.

Columbus County District Attorney Jon David has declined to say what position he will take Friday. In December, after the commission’s vote in Sledge’s favor, David said he had doubts about the “sanctity of the evidence” used to convict Sledge in 1978.

David has the authority to consent to Sledge’s exoneration and forgo a full-blown hearing on the evidence.

The judges have been assigned to Sledge’s case for just one day.

Sledge, 70, has spent more than half his life in prison for the murder of Josephine and Ailene Davis, a mother and daughter who lived together in rural Bladen County in southeastern North Carolina. He has always insisted he is innocent, and for decades he has pleaded with the courts to undo his conviction.

Investigators from the innocence commission found no physical evidence tying Sledge to the slayings. A hair left on one victim’s exposed torso revealed a partial DNA profile that does not belong to Sledge. Investigators have yet to identify another possible killer.

If exonerated Friday, Sledge is eligible to collect $750,000 from the state for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

The hearing is set to begin at 10 a.m. in Columbus County Superior Court in Whiteville.

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