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Hearing set for prisoner who claims innocence in 1976 double murder

Posted December 16, 2014
Updated January 20, 2015

Joseph Sledge testifies Dec. 5, 2014, before the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.
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— A three-judge panel will convene Friday in Columbus County to hear the case of a man who says he was wrongly convicted of a double murder 38 years ago and that evidence proves it.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission last month unanimously voted to send the case of Joseph Sledge for judicial review, finding that sufficient evidence exists to show Sledge did not kill Josephine Davis, 74, and her daughter Ailene Davis, 53, in their Bladen County home in September 1976.

At the time of the crimes, Sledge, now 70, had been serving a four-year sentence at a prison work farm for larceny when he escaped a day before the slayings. That factored into his 1978 conviction, as well as key testimony from two fellow prisoners who said Sledge admitted to the killings.

One of the inmates recanted his testimony, and recent DNA testing on hairs found at the crime scene showed that they could not have been Sledge's.

Following last month's Innocence Inquiry Commission hearing, Bladen County Jon David said "substantial questions exist" about the evidence at trial and that he believed the eight-member panel "got it right" when it voted to send Sledge's case before a special judicial panel.

If the judges believe Sledge's claim of innocence, they could exonerate him and wipe out his conviction.  

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