A jailhouse snitch who helped ensure that Joseph Sledge spent the last 34 years in prison now says he lied at Sledges 1978 trial, Sledges lawyer said Tuesday in a new motion aimed at winning his freedom.
Sledge has insisted for decades that he is innocent. The News & Observer reported March 17 that new DNA tests showed he was not the person who left hair on the bodies of Josephine and Ailene Davis, two Bladen County murder victims.
In a motion filed Tuesday in Columbus County, Sledges attorney, Christine Mumma, asked a judge to overturn Sledges conviction, release him and dismiss any charges related to the murder. The district attorney could join Mumma in petitioning for Sledges freedom.
The motion lays out dozens of missteps in Sledges case, including recent allegations of bribed testimony and improper conduct by investigators. A key witness at the trial, Herman Baker, says investigators fed me all the details to form his testimony.
Sledges conviction rested firmly on testimony of two jailhouse snitches.
Baker, one of two inmates who testified at the trial, told Sledges lawyers at the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence last week that he was lured by reward money and promises of early parole into giving damning testimony implicating Sledge in the murder. According to the motion, Baker also told Mumma that investigators told him he was a suspect in the murders of the Davises and could be charged if he didnt cooperate.
According to the affidavit, Baker said that law enforcement and prison officials provided him specific details of the crime in order for him to provide believable testimony.
I did not have any personal knowledge of any information relating to the murders of the two women in Bladen County, Baker said. Law enforcement fed me all the details of the crime to which I testified.
In 1978, while investigators tried to make an arrest in the murders, Baker was in prison on a breaking and entering conviction. He could have encountered Sledge in prison, but Sledge says he does not remember him.
The other jailhouse informant who testified against Sledge died in 1991. That informants information shifted in the months before Sledges trial; he initially told investigators he knew nothing of Sledges involvement in the murders.
Mumma, director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence in Durham, said in the motion that the new evidence now completely undermines any confidence in Mr. Sledges conviction and irrefutably establishes his innocence.
Mumma asked the judge to order an investigation into cases involving snitch testimony handled by the officers involved with Bakers testimony.
The two officers who handled Bakers interviews and trial preparation are now retired. Henry L. Poole retired from the SBI in the 1990s after heading an unsolved crimes unit. Phillip Little retired last year from the Bladen County sheriffs office.
Little said in an interview earlier this month that he would have a hard time believing Sledges innocence, even with DNA evidence. Little said the jailhouse informants testimony was compelling.
In 1976, Sledge, an Army veteran, was serving a four-year sentence at a prison in Bladen County for receiving stolen property and larceny. He escaped the day before the Davises were killed because he feared another inmate would attack him.
Sledge was convicted in 1978 in Columbus County. Mike Easley, then a young prosecutor, helped convict Sledge. Easley, who went on to become the local district attorney, state attorney general and eventually governor, would fight Sledges attempts over the years to undo his conviction.
In 1983, Easley responded to one of Sledges motions for appropriate relief, saying that the snitches had received no promises of reward money for their testimony.
Sledge fought for nearly two decades to get DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. He finally got his wish last year; DNA tests in December on long-misplaced evidence showed that hairs left on the victims bodies were not his.
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