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Innocence group: Witness lied in 1978 Bladen County murder trial

Posted March 26, 2013

— 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.

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  • Save It Mar 27, 2013

    What I want to know is how you find someone stupid enough to put on a jury that will believe anything at all about an inmates testimony.

  • Save It Mar 27, 2013

    "Don't throw away faith in our judicial system. We simply don't have any more faith in those that are running it!!!" - somestymieguy

    If you have faith in the NC judicial system you are a fool who gets what you deserve if ever confronted with it. There are criminals in every courtroom even if the prosecutors are the only ones present.

  • Save It Mar 27, 2013

    "Meanwhile, what penality will those corrupt law enforcement and prosecutors receive?"

    None. They could have intentionally railroaded the man by fabricating evidence and there would be zero repercussions as the prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity for their crimes.

  • Save It Mar 27, 2013

    Easley was an over-zealous prosecutor with political aspirations. Who would have thought. End prosecutorial immunity now.

  • Rebelyell55 Mar 27, 2013

    Looks like his first mistake was escaping from jail, that sure set him up.

  • JAFOinWF Mar 26, 2013

    Its not hard to see that cops and prosecutors slander themselves. Easley has had his law license taken away over scandals. He also appointed Nifong who was disgraced but only served 1 day in jail. The cops in the Cooper case willfully destroyed evidence making them look like the keystone cops and every day there is a new police brutality showing up. Summarizing only from the article, it has the appearance that the prosecutor was potentially the criminal here getting jailhouse snitch info which is weak at best. If the DNA does not match, it casts wide dispersion on the accusations. Remember, between the Duke lacrosse and all of the folks who have been found innocent many years later in Wake county, I tend to side with the innocence commission than any lawyer who turns politician.

  • oleguy Mar 26, 2013

    No body in prison is Guilty, turn them all out,, do away with all the Judges, Lawyers,,tear down the prisons, fire all the guards,, Its every man for himself,, Or bring back the death pentaly

  • MooUDude Mar 26, 2013

    Not surprising at all that Easley was involved. What a piece of work. If this proves to be true, I hope they take his State pension and give it to Mr. Sledge.

  • Ex-Republican Mar 26, 2013

    Good thing this man wasn't sentenced to death. 34 years of wrongful imprisonment is bad enough. But at least he's still around to go free if possible. Meanwhile, what penality will those corrupt law enforcement and prosecutors receive?

  • The2ruthHurts Mar 26, 2013

    It is easy to split hairs and scrutinize what happened over 30 years ago. What a joke. OMG, we found something that is missing here or something that we can get an answer for....that means the guy is innocent. Anyone can tell you what their opinion is. It does not mean its valid. Let alone tie up resources that we do not have. Let's go back to the Civil War and start charging people of war crimes. Geesh.

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