A man who spent more than half his life in a North Carolina prison for two murders he didn’t commit walked out a free man Friday, holding his belongings in two white plastic bags. Joseph Sledge, who was wrongfully convicted in 1978, said he feels wonderful about his freedom. He is now 70-years old.
Sledge was exonerated by a three-judge panel who reviewed post-conviction DNA evidence from the victims. The panel said that evidence excluded Sledge as a suspect. A witness who testified that Sledge had admitted to the murders recanted his testimony in 2013.
Josephine Davis and her daughter Aileen Davis were discovered in September 1976 inside their home in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. The women had been beaten and stabbed multiple times; Aileen Davis had been sexually assaulted.
The DNA testing provided compelling evidence that excluded Sledge as a suspect. Remarkably, Herman Baker, a key witness who had testified against the man withdrew his testimony in 2013. He said he lied at the 1978 trial, told by authorities what to say in the court. He also admitted he was promised leniency in his drug case in exchange for the false accusation.
Joseph Sledge was totally exonerated of any blame by a special three-judge panel, declared innocent of the killings and released from prison.
It should be noted that almost 325 post-conviction DNA exonerations have been registered nationwide in the United States, according to The Innocence Project.
“Going home. Relaxing. Sleeping in a real bed. Probably get in a pool of water and swim for a little while,” Sledge told reporters answering their question about his plans, while walking out of the prison, where he spent nearly 40 years.
“When you’re conscious of something you didn’t do, you can live with yourself. It’s between you and your maker,” he added.