A three judge panel appointed by the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered Joseph Sledge released today after serving 40 years in prison for a double murder he did not commit. He was convicted by a jury in 1976 of stabbing to death two women.

The panel found him innocent based on exculpatory DNA evidence. None of the forensic evidence, which consisted of hair, blood and fingerprints, implicated him in the murders. In addition, a jailhouse informant who testified against him at the trial recanted his testimony claiming that police and prosecutors promised him leniency in his own pending case in exchange for his testimony that Sledge confessed to the murders while both were in jail prior to the trial.

A district attorney who was not originally involved apologized to Sledge and promised to reopen the investigation.

“The system has made a mistake,” district attorney Jon David said.

Sledge said he’s looking forward to sleeping in a real bed tonight and going swimming.

Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.