Evidence unaccounted for 38 years after eastern NC double murder
Posted December 4, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Investigators re-examining a Bladen County double murder case from nearly 40 years ago were unable to find a pair of green prison-issued pants that could have been valuable for the man now trying to clear his name in the crimes.
Lindsey Guice Smith, associate counsel for the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, told the eight-member Innocence Commission panel Thursday that documentation of the pants showed what appeared to be blood on them and could be useful in trying to determine if Joseph Sledge was at the bloody crime scene.
"Simply, without the clothing, we just can't test them any further," Smith said.
It's unclear what might have happened to it. Smith talked about searching in basements and boiler rooms at the Bladen County Courthouse, as well as scouring the district attorney's and sheriff's offices for items that seemed to be haphazardly stored with no real system or documentation.
Sledge had escaped from a prison work farm in White Lake a couple miles from the home where Josephine Davis, 74, and her daughter Ailene Davis, 53, were found stabbed to death on Sept. 6, 1976.
He was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder on Aug. 31, 1978, but has denied any involvement.
The Innocence Commission – a state agency that independently investigates post-conviction claims of innocence – is hearing his case this week to determine if it should go before a special three-judge panel that has the authority to exonerate him.
Sledge's conviction was based on testimony from two jailhouse informants – one who died in the early 1990s and another who recanted his testimony last year, saying prison officials "fed him" details of the crime so that he would testify against Sledge.
Investigators found no physical evidence definitively putting Sledge at the crime scene, and the closest they came was nine hairs found on Ailene Davis' abdomen and forehead that were from a black man.
The same hairs, however, could still afford the 70-year-old Sledge an appearance before the judicial panel.
DNA testing wasn't available in the 1970s, but analysis last year showed the hairs – found in an envelope on a top shelf in an evidence room – could not have been his.
Sledge is expected to testify Friday before commissioners begin deliberating whether to send his case for a judicial hearing.
For that to happen, five of the eight members must vote in favor of doing so.
Since the Innocence Commission began in 2007, it has reviewed more than 1,600 claims of innocence. Of those, 20 cases remain under investigation, and seven people have been exonerated.