County offers Sledge $4M settlement to avoid court

By: Staff report

ELIZABETHTOWN — Joseph Sledge, who was wrongfully convicted of two murders in Bladen County and spent nearly 40 years in prison, could become $4 million richer if he accepts a deal brokered by the Bladen County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Sledge was convicted in the murders of Ailen and Josephine Davis of Elizabethtown in September 1976, but DNA testing was used to free Sledge a few years ago.

Initial estimations saw Sledge asking for $1 million for every year he was incarcerated for the murders, but his legal team had submitted a request for $12,5 million to county commissioners.

Commissioners have been using a number of closed sessions recently wrangling with how to handle the looming lawsuit, and the decision came on Thursday — though it was not unanimous.

Chairman Charles Ray Peterson was hopeful that legal opinion that the county was not liable for Sledge’s incarceration would play out, but other commissioners wanted the issue behind them. Commissioner Michael Cogdell made the motion in open session that the county pay Sledge the $4 million — $900,000 paid by the county and $3.1 million by the county’s insurance company — and Commissioner Arthur Blanks seconded it. The final vote was 7-2 in favor, with Peterson and Commissioner Daniel Dowless casting the no votes.

Sledge still has impending lawsuits against other Bladen County agencies and individuals, including the Sheriff’s Office.

Staff report