Local News

Innocence advocate: 'I feel like I am a target'

Posted January 19, 2016

— A lawyer who works to free wrongly convicted inmates said Tuesday that she is still reeling days after a disciplinary panel cleared her of the most serious allegations of wrongdoing leveled by the North Carolina State Bar.

Christine Mumma, the director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, was accused of violating the rules of professional conduct in the case of Joseph Sledge, who served almost 40 years for a double murder he didn't commit before he was exonerated and released from prison last January.

Mumma was seeking a DNA sample from the family of a possible suspect in the Sledge case when, in October 2013, she took a water bottle from the home of Marie Andrus and later had it tested for DNA without Andrus' permission. Andrus' brothers, who are now dead, were among those looked at for the crime.

Tests on the bottle later came back inconclusive, and Sledge was exonerated based on hairs from the crime scene and other evidence.

"I didn't think I had done anything wrong," Mumma told WRAL News in her first sit-down interview since her State Bar case was resolved. "When you know someone has been in there for 35 years, I mean, if that doesn't inspire you to do everything you can, then you're pretty heartless."

The disciplinary panel ruled that Mumma violated Andrus' privacy and issued a written admonition, the lowest level of punishment it could levy. The panel dismissed allegations that Mumma was dishonest or deceitful or acted in a way prejudicial to the administration of justice.

"The last two years have been grueling," Mumma said. "The negative feelings towards me from the State Bar prosecutor were just palatable."

Given the toll the allegations took, she said she might not take the same action she did in Sledge's case if faced with similar circumstances.

"Of course, I wouldn't do it," she said, adding later, "But had the bottle been consistent with the hairs and had resulted in Joseph coming home much more quickly, yeah, I would do it again."

Mumma's work has helped free several men who spent years in prison for crimes they didn't commit, and she said she felt like she was singled out because of that.

"I absolutely feel like I am a target. Who would go through what I went through the last few years and not feel like they're a target?" she said.

The process needs to be reformed, she said, so no one else has to defend himself or herself before the State Bar in the future, she said. North Carolina should pass a law making it mandatory for prosecutors to re-investigate cases when there is credible evidence of innocence, she said, noting 15 other states have such laws.

Mumma said she is working on more cases at the Center on Actual Innocence, including trying to free Johnny Small, who has been in prison for 28 years for a murder in New Hanover County she says he didn't commit.

"We've got some great cases right now, and I absolutely believe in their innocence, and I want to see them come home," she said. "Maybe once we can walk someone else out to freedom, all of this will be in the background a little bit."


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  • jtwhitfield81 Jan 20, 2016

    Chris has the utmost in integrity and has helped so many when there was no one else who could help. I applaud her efforts and successes! Don't for a moment believe that this will deter her. She finds things that were either not available technologically speaking or could have been purposely overlooked. DA's are proud of their conviction rates. Her objective is to discover proper and accurate evidence that will either support or refute a conviction. Most of the folks that she helps have exhausted all other means of proving their innocence. I applaud and support her efforts!!!

  • Arthur Raleigh Jan 20, 2016
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    Of course she is being targeted! Lawyers and law enforcement isn't happen when they are proven wrong!

  • Kelly Birdsall Jan 20, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    Sure! That makes perfect sense!! :/

  • BigWillie Johnson Jan 20, 2016
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    Sometimes to beat the criminal you have to be the criminal. All the criminals in the courtrooms include more than the accused. Just pray you are never caught up in our "justice," system. Even if you are innocent, the burden of proof is upon you to prove your innocence. It is totally changed: you are now guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proving your innocence is upon the accused. Those without money are populating the jails,especially in Wake County where the funding for the corrections center, was dependent upon an 85% occupancy rate. What? Yes, they have to create criminals to justify their jail. Think about it.

  • Will Sonnett Jan 20, 2016
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    "I got caught doing something unethical trying to prove others were unethical and now I want to play the pity card." Sorry, if you are going to make your living complaining that some are not treated fairly, you must be willing to treat others fairly, too. The door swings both ways.

  • BigWillie Johnson Jan 20, 2016
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    She was exonerated, so sanctimonious piling on, on an innocent person is the same behavior as the LE's that wrongfully convicted the man she freed. She better get used to it because when you point out, "the emperor is wearing no clothes," they become vindictive. She is a hero, as popular culture would say: "you go girl." Unfortunately there is plenty of work to be done in this area. BTW if your AA, and an outsider to Bladen County do not go there, very corrupt, very ignorant.

  • Rob Creekmore Jan 20, 2016
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    She is a hero.

  • Mary Meadows Jan 19, 2016
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    [quote=15251912]Post by Bonnie Craig[/quote
    Agreed. She said she accidentally took his water bottle. Then upon realizing this, she decided to just keep it? And submit it for DNA analysis? I don't buy that story one bit. Her heart was in the right place - don't get me wrong, I applaud what she is trying to doBUT she is defending people who have most likely had LEO's and officials "cheat" in the exact way she did to get a wrongful conviction. Heard of "Two wrongs don't make a right ?"

  • Bonnie Craig Jan 19, 2016
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    As an attorney, you should know that you can not take other people's property without a warrant for whatever reason. LEOs cannot. I would sue you.

  • Sam Nada Jan 19, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    So you missed this?

    "The panel dismissed allegations that Mumma was dishonest or deceitful or acted in a way prejudicial to the administration of justice."