Fayetteville Observer

Defense lawyer: Prosecutor agrees man locked up since 1978 should be freed

Posted: Friday, January 9, 2015 5:52 pm | Updated: 10:15 pm, Fri Jan 9, 2015.
By Paul Woolverton Staff writer

The Bladen County district attorney agrees former Fayetteville resident Joseph Sledge, imprisoned since 1978 for double murder, is innocent of the crime, Sledge's lawyer said Friday evening.

This decision should pave the way for the 70-year-old Sledge to go free.

Sledge has always maintained he is factually innocent of the murders in 1976 of Josephine Davis and her daughter Aileen, who lived in Bladen County near Elizabethtown.

A panel of three judges to consider Sledge's claim of innocence is expected to meet in two to three weeks, said Sledge's lawyer, Chris Mumma. Mumma has been working for more than 10 years to free sledge.
Mumma said Bladen County District Attorney Jon David "is consenting to Joseph's innocence." David declined to comment, saying he is not permitted to discuss the case.

David publicly discussed the case at a news conference in December, where he said, "All of us realize that the criminal justice system is a human system, that sometimes mistakes are made. And when mistakes do occur, we are duty bound - we don't just have a legal obligation, but indeed a moral responsibility, to do everything that we can to seek to correct problems."

David's agreement to Sledge's innocence likely will lead the three judges to declare that Sledge is innocent.

Josephine and Aileen Davis were stabbed and beaten to death in their home. Aileen appeared to have been sexually assaulted.

Sledge's innocence claim was investigated by the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state agency whose staff re-opens old cases if there is evidence someone could have been wrongly convicted. In December, the eight-member commission reviewed the staff's evidence and took testimony from witnesses. It unanimously agreed Sledge is innocent and granted him a hearing before the three judge panel for a final review and decision on whether he was wrongly convicted.

Among the evidence suggesting Sledge was wrongly convicted: Fingerprints and a bloody handprint thought to belong to the killer don't match Sledge; a witness who testified at Sledge's trial in 1978 that Sledge confessed now says he lied to get a share of a $5,000 reward; and DNA from a man's head and pubic hairs that were found on Aileen Davis' body - and thought to belong to the killer - doesn't match Sledge.

At the time of the murders, Sledge was an escapee from a prison near White Lake in Bladen County. He passed near Josephine and Aileen Davis' home north of Elizabethtown en route to Fayetteville.

Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at woolvertonp@fayobserver.com or 486-3512.

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