At 68, Joseph Sledge has spent the last 34 years of his life in a North Carolina prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Matter of fact, Sledge’s correspondence with the Columbus County Clerk of Court’s office takes up four files spanning his 34 years of incarceration.
Sledge has proclaimed his innocence since 1978 when he was convicted, but an envelope found in the evidence room in August of 2012 may change everything. In December of last year, the content of the envelope was sent off for DNA testing. Finally, Sledge had proof that the strands of hair found at the crime scene were not his. After writing his first letter asking for DNA testing in his case in 1993, he finally had DNA testing on the hairs that concluded the hair didn’t belong to Sledge.
The SBI in North Carolina did some DNA testing along with a private lab from 2009-2011. Those tests, based on a partial DNA profile found on the victims’ clothing offered enough to exclude Sledge but didn’t offer a full view of all 23 pairs of chromosomes. The problem was that no one could say with certainty whether or not the sample belonged to the murderer.
After serving 15 years in prison, Sledge asked for help from the Innocence Project in New York. His request was denied at the time because of what the North Carolina SBI now calls an oversight. When the Innocence Project contacted the SBI in North Carolina to request evidence or documents from the case, SBI Counsel replied by telling the Innocence Project they were never involved in the case.
25 years after Sledge began serving his sentence, he received a letter from Superior Court Judge William Gore informing Sledge that no one responded to his order asking the district attorney and investigating agencies to look for evidence that could be tested. The next year, now 2005, after being contacted by the Duke Law School innocence clinic, then District Attorney Rex Gore filed an affidavit stating a box of evidence from Sledge’s trial was kept at the Clerk of Court’s office and the evidence the Sheriff collected had been destroyed.
In 2006, Judge William Gore signs a consent order directing the evidence held at the Clerk’s office to be sent to the SBI for DNA testing but the evidence was never tested nor was it taken to the SBI. Two years later, another order is signed directing the Sheriff’s department to take the box of evidence to Raleigh for testing. In August of 2012, an envelope containing hairs believed to be from the attacker collected from the bodies of the victims is found in the evidence room of the Clerk’s office. After serving more than 30 years in prison, the DNA testing performed by the SBI and a private lab determines that the sample tested rules out Sledge. Sledge may have his opportunity for freedom.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help With Obtaining Post Conviction Relief in South Carolina
Every one accused of a crime in South Carolina has a right to a jury trial. Unfortunately, even with the best alibi and corroborating witnesses, you may still be found guilty due to circumstances which blatantly violate your constitutional rights.
Even after you are convicted of a crime in South Carolina, you have certain rights and can appeal your conviction if you act quickly. Post-Conviction Relief or PCR Action is a case against the Federal Government for violating one of your Constitutional Rights, usually your right to effective assistance of Counsel. PCRs, as they are commonly known, must be filed within one year of the date of your conviction, or within one year of the conclusion of your appeal, whichever is later, except in very limited circumstances.
Common reasons for a PCR action include:
§ after acquired evidence
§ ineffective assistance of counsel
§ the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction
§ misconduct by the prosecution including failure to turn over evidence
§ your defense attorney failed to properly investigate the case or call corroborating witnesses
The most common basis for a PCR claim is ineffective assistance of counsel. To prove ineffective assistance of counsel, you must establish:
§ that your trial attorney did not provide reasonably effective assistance under the prevailing standard and
§ the attorney’s failure to provide reasonably effective assistance resulted in prejudice to your case
The criminal defense attorneys at the Strom Law Firm, LLC understand the criminal justice system and provide aggressive PCR representation to protect your rights. Contact us today at 803.252.4800 for a free consultation as to whether you may be entitled to PCR and to see how we can help.