Post-Conviction DNA Testing Frees North Carolina Man

North Carolina resident Joseph Sledge has been released after spending 36 years imprisoned. Sledge’s conviction for the murders of two women has been reversed after new DNA testing failed to link him to the crime, as reported by Stephanie Gallman of CNN.

In 1976, Sledge had been serving a four-year sentence for larceny when he escaped from prison. The next day, two women were found dead—stabbed and beaten, one sexually assaulted—in their home four miles from the prison. Sledge was arrested after being stopped for driving a stolen car. He was later convicted of the murders of the two women.

Sledge continually avowed his innocence over the past 36 years, filing multiple appeals that were denied without hearing. Then, in 2003, the court granted his request for new DNA testing. The testing, conducted five years later, found that the fingerprints, bloody footprints, and pubic hair found at the crime scene did not match Sledge. More than 10 years after the court first granted his request for new DNA testing, his conviction was reversed by a three-judge panel part of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

The Commission is a state agency, composed of members appointed by the state judiciary, charged with investigating and evaluating post-conviction claims of innocence. “A person exonerated by the commission process is declared innocent and cannot be retried for the same crime.” Unfortunately, Washington State does not have an equivalent state agency.

Post-conviction DNA testing also led to a recent, similar reversal for two other North Carolina men. I wrote about that reversal here.