A three-judge panel will convene a special session of superior court in Columbus County on Friday to hear evidence relevant to the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission’s recommendation in the case of State v. Joseph Sledge.

Sledge, now 70, contends he is innocent of a 1976 murder of a mother and her daughter in their Bladen County home.

One of the state’s witnesses—a jailhouse informant—has recanted his testimony, and recent DNA testing on crime scene hairs showed they weren’t Sledge’s. No other physical evidence linked Sledge to the crime.

In December, N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin assigned Judges Thomas H. Lock (of Johnston County), Anna Mills Wagoner (of Rowan County) and Kevin Bridges (of Stanly, Anson and Richmond counties) to consider the case after a three-day hearing where Innocence Inquiry commissioners unanimously concluded there was sufficient evidence of actual innocence to merit a judicial review.

The judges could exonerate Sledge immediately.

The Innocence Inquiry Commission is a state agency created in 2007 by the General Assembly to investigate and evaluate post-conviction claims of factual innocence. To date, it has conducted nine commission hearings, resulting in seven people being exonerated.