A man held in a North Carolina prison for most of his life was released on Friday, after a special panel found he had been wrongfully convicted of a double murder in 1976.
Following a brief hearing in Columbus County, a specially appointed three-judge panel found Joseph Sledge had proven he was innocent of the stabbing deaths of a mother and her adult daughter in neighboring Bladen County.
Sledge, 70, had maintained his innocence throughout his 37 years in custody, waging an often-lonely battle to get someone in the courts to pay attention to his claims. Since 2003, his efforts had been delayed because clerks in Bladen County couldn’t find an evidence envelope containing crime-scene hair that, once it was discovered on a top shelf of an evidence vault, showed Sledge had not been the perpetrator.
“Patience is the virtue,” Sledge said after his release.
Sledge is the eighth person to be exonerated after his case was investigated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the only state-run investigative agency of its kind. The commission has reviewed about 1,500 cases since its creation in 2007.
- Journalist Mandy Locke has been writing about Joseph Sledge's case for the past year. This article details his entire ordeal.
- WUNC's Frank Stasio talked with Locke prior to the hearing. Listen to their conversation here.
- The News & Observer has a timeline that tracks the progress of Joseph Sledge's fight for freedom. Look at the timeline here.