Whiteville, N.C. — Attorneys with the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence say a man lied when he offered incriminating testimony at Joseph Sledge's 1978 murder trial, according to a motion filed Tuesday in Columbus County.
Sledge, 68, who has spent the last 34 years in prison for the murders of two women in Bladen County, has always maintained his innocence.
Now, the Durham-based innocence group is working to free him. Director Christine Mumma, Sledge's attorney, asked the judge to overturn his conviction, release him and dismiss all charges related to the deaths of Josephine and Ailene Davis.
Tuesday's motion comes just nine days after new DNA tests showed hair left on the victims' bodies did not belong to Sledge. It alleges that investigators bribed witnesses for their testimony.
Herman Baker, one of two jailhouse snitches who testified against Sledge, told the innocence center last week that investigators provided him with all the details of the crime so that he could testify. He said they bribed him with promises of reward money and early parole.
According to the motion, Baker told the innocence group: "I did not have any personal knowledge of any information relating to the murders of two women in Bladen County. Law enforcement fed me all the details of the crime to which I testified."
Mumma said Baker's admission "completely undermines any confidence in Mr. Sledge's conviction and irrefutably establishes his innocence."
The other jailhouse informant died in 1991.
Sledge had been serving a four-year prison sentence for larceny when he escaped one day before the murders.
Former Gov. Mike Easley was one of the prosecutors who worked to convict Sledge. Over the years, he fought against attempts to have the conviction overturned.