Freedom, 36 years late

From an editorial Tuesday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

Joseph Sledge, who lost more than half his life to prison for a crime he did not commit, owes his freedom to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission and a lawyer named Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.

Mumma has fought before the commission successfully to free several inmates wrongly convicted, and Joseph Sledge is the latest. Sledge was serving a four-year sentence on a theft conviction when he broke out of a prison camp in Eastern North Carolina in 1976. In what would be a horrendous coincidence for him and a tragedy for a family, two women, a mother and daughter, were killed in Bladen County on the night of his escape. They lived only five miles from the prison.

Sledge was convicted, claiming his innocence for all the years thereafter. By happenstance, a Columbus County clerk found missing evidence from the case in 2012. Mumma and her colleagues did the rest.

Amazingly, he did not seem angry, and he was sympathetic to the family of the victims, a family now seeking a solution to the crime. The investigation has been reopened.

And that, in turn, is another strong argument against North Carolina’s death penalty. What if that penalty had been applied to Joseph Sledge?