Local News

Exonerated man stands behind lawyer accused of misconduct

Posted May 13, 2015 4:49 p.m. EDT
Updated May 13, 2015 6:57 p.m. EDT

— Greg Taylor knows how it feels to be wrongly accused, so he was quick to jump to the defense of his lawyer when he learned she faced a misconduct allegation from the North Carolina State Bar.

"I owe my life to Chris Mumma, and I'll stand beside her, behind her 100 percent," Taylor said Wednesday.

Taylor spent 17 years in prison for a Wake County murder before Mumma brought his case before the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2010 and got him exonerated of the crime.

Mumma, the executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, has cleared several others who spent years – sometimes decades – behind bars before being cleared.

"She's a person who has fought real hard for the right thing for a long time, and that should stand above all else," Taylor said.

The State Bar, however, says she acted improperly in one of her most recent cases.

In a complaint filed Monday, Mumma is accused of unethically collecting a DNA sample while investigating the case of Joseph Sledge and not telling anyone how she got it.

Sledge, 70, spent nearly 40 years behind bars for the 1976 stabbing deaths of Josephine Davis, 74, and Ailene Davis, 53, in their Elizabethtown home. He was cleared of the killings in January after newly discovered evidence cast doubt on his involvement.

The State Bar's complaint alleges that, in October 2013, Mumma visited the home of a woman whose brothers were considered possible suspects in the killings to obtain a DNA sample. Mumma believed the sample would strengthen Sledge’s claims of innocence, the complaint said.

The woman declined to provide a sample, but Mumma left the home with a half-empty water bottle that she knew may not have belonged to her, according to the complaint. After the family decided not to provide a DNA sample, Mumma had the water bottle tested, the complaint said.

The findings never factored into the state's decision to release Sledge.

Former state Supreme Court justice Bob Orr, who knows Mumma, called the allegations painful and said he hopes the suspicions toward Mumma don't adversely affect the work to free the wrongly convicted across the state.

"A DNA sample taken from that water bottle would seem to me very inconsequential in the greater context of the work that people across the state are doing," Orr said. "Anyone who knows Chris and the work she’s done with the Innocence Commission know she’s a person of great integrity."

Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones, who serves as chairman of the Innocence Commission, and the commission's executive director, Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, both declined to comment on the allegations.

Taylor said he worries Mumma is being targeted.

"If people have a problem or people want to condemn somebody that seeks the truth, then they should look at the lie they're living," he said. "It’s a shame that she even has to do what she does. If the prosecutors would do their job, there would be no need for innocence projects."

Mumma declined to comment on the complaint, but her two attorneys said they will work with the State Bar to resolve the issue. The State Bar has scheduled an Aug. 7 hearing before its disciplinary board.

"We are proud of Chris Mumma’s contributions to our state’s criminal justice system and honored to represent her in this matter," attorneys Alan Schneider and Brad Bannon said in a statement.