Joseph Sledge

Joseph Sledge is a free man after 37 years in prison following Friday's decision by a judicial panel in North Carolina to overturn his 1976 conviction in the stabbing deaths of an elderly mother and her daughter.

The Associated Press says DNA evidence had helped to exonerate Sledge, now 70, whose case was referred last month to the three-judge panel by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Joseph Sledge and his attorney Christine Mumma 1/23/15
Jorge Valencia

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.

Joseph Sledge, photographed at Pamlico Correctional Institution in Bayboro, N.C. Thursday, February 28, 2013.
ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

In 1976, Joseph Sledge escaped from an Elizabethtown prison and within 24 hours, mother and daughter Josephine and Ailene Davis were murdered.