The State of North Carolina has filed a motion to dismiss a case filed by former inmate Joseph Sledge, who spent nearly 40 years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit.
Bladen County has already paid a $4 million settlement to Sledge for errors the sheriff’s department made in his wrongful conviction for the 1976 double homicide of Josephine and Aileen Davis.
The state paid Sledge an additional $750,000 under the Erroneous Conviction Statute, the maximum allowed by law. They believe they are immune from any further liability and have filed a motion to dismiss Sledge’s claim that is still pending against the State Bureau of Investigation and the Clerk of Courts.
Sledge tried to prove his innocence after the advent of DNA technology in the 1990s. At first, his pleas were ignored. Later, the SBI and local clerk’s office claimed the evidence used to convict Sledge had been lost or destroyed. Finally, in 2012, a clerk who was dusting in the Columbus County Courthouse evidence locker found that missing evidence from the Sledge case.
DNA testing proved what Sledge had been saying for decades, that the biological evidence found at the crime scene wasn’t his. Sledge’s conviction was overturned and he was released from prison in 2015.
Sledge’s attorney maintains that the state’s errors went beyond wrongfully convicting him. They believe that negligence by the SBI and Clerk’s Office in properly maintaining the evidence used to convict him cost Sledge an additional decade behind bars.
A judge approved the DNA testing of the evidence back in 2003, but because of delays responding to that order, and evidence management issues, Sledge had to wait much longer to obtain the lab results that would ultimately lead to his freedom.
Sledge’s attorneys believe the state’s negligence in maintaining the evidence after he was sent to prison is a separate issue from his wrongful conviction.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission will consider the motion to dismiss the case against the SBI and Clerk’s Office in Raleigh on Aug. 8.
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