After spending 37 years in jail for a double murder that he didn't commit, Joseph Sledge was finally exonerated and freed from the Columbus County Jail in Whiteville, North Carolina, last Friday.
Sledge, 70, was wrongfully convicted in 1978 on two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for stabbing Josephine Davis and her adult daughter Aileen Davis to death on September 19, 1976.
A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that Sledge was innocent of the killings and ordered him to be released (video below).
"I had confidence in my own self. The self will and the patience," Sledge told reporters. "Patience is the word."
The Associated Press notes that court clerks, who were cleaning out a vault, discovered an envelope containing hair that was found on one of the victims.
The hair was not subjected to DNA testing, which wasn't available in 1978. Sledge was convicted on the basis of the testimony of two prison inmates who claimed Sledge admitted to the murders in jail between 1976 and his trial in 1978.
Sledge filed numerous motions to the court for decades, but was always denied without a hearing.
The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission took Sledge's case in 2013 and referred it to the panel of three judges who heard from a DNA expert who said that none of the hair, DNA and fingerprints found at the double murder scene belonged to Sledge.
Herman Baker, a jailhouse informant, admitted that he lied in 2013 about his testimony against Sledge in 1978. Baker said he was promised leniency in his drug case and was coached by authorities on what to say. The other inmate recanted his testimony in 1991.
The day before the bodies of mother and daughter were found, Sledge had escaped from a prison work farm where he was serving a four-year sentence for larceny, noted CNN.
"We, the family, are heartbroken by this decision," Catherine Brown, Josephine Davis' granddaughter, said in court.