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Headline Roundup: Innocence Commission Looks At 78-Year-Old's 1978 Conviction; More

A 78-year-old man who says he was wrongly convicted of the 1978 murders of a mother and daughter in rural eastern North Carolina now has a chance to plead his case to a panel that could help him gain his freedom.

The Raleigh News and Observer reports the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission will examine the conviction of Joseph Sledge who has spent more than half his life in prison. Sledge escaped from a prison in Elizabethtown in 1976. The same night, Josephine and Ailene Davis were stabbed to death. 

The commission will hear evidence in the case and if it agrees Sledge's claim merits further review a three-judge panel will then determine whether he should be freed and exonerated. 

UNC-CH Announces Largest Individual Donation
UNC Chapel Hill today announced its largest individual donation ever - $100 million. The donation comes from the man for whom the pharmacy school is named, alumnus and pharmaceutical entrepreneur Fred Eschelman of Wilmington.

Eschelman previously donated $38 million to UNC. His $100 million gift is more than double the university’s previous largest donation. Chancellor Carol Folt says the money will be used to fund research and innovation. In its most current ranking of graduate pharmacy schools, U.S. News and World Report listed UNC as second in the nation.

NC Board Of Education Meets
The North Carolina Board of Education meets today and tomorrow in Raleigh. On the board’s agenda is discussion of approving nearly a dozen new charter schools. The publicly funded schools are run by independent boards rather than local school districts. They have much more flexibility in focus, hiring and student experience.  There are almost 150 charters in North Carolina. The expansion the board is considering would include three more charter schools in Mecklenburg County, two more in Durham and Pitt counties, and one each in Wake, Guilford, Haywood and Franklin counties.  The state says there were 71 applications to open new charter schools.

SC House Continues Special Organizational Session
The South Carolina House continues its special organizational session today. Newly-elected speaker Jay Lucas will make committee assignments and committees will then meet to choose their chairmen.

Lucas replaces Bobby Harrell, who resigned in October after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges. Republicans in Charleston have given up on trying to get a new election for Harrell’s house seat. The Post and Courier reports Democratic Representative Mary Tinkler will keep the seat for the coming two years. Republicans had asked for a special primary election to pick a replacement for Harrell on the ballot.

McCrory, ABC Launch Program Aimed At Underage Drinking
Governor McCrory and the head of the state ABC Commission today announced a new program designed to deal with underage drinking. It’s called “Talk-It-Out,” and McCrory says the goal is to get more parents to talk to their kids about drinking.

The state says underage drinking leads to lost lives, crime, and higher medical expenses. One study estimates underage drinking cost state residents $1.5 billion in 2010 and contributed to tens of thousands of crimes and dozens of homicides the year before. Another study shows more than one-third of high school students reported having at least one drink in the past 30 days.

Two-Year-Old Recovering From Gunshot Wound
A two-year old girl is recovering from a gunshot wound. Police say she was hit by a bullet in a drive-by shooting last night shortly after 9:15. The girl was inside a house in northwest Charlotte. She was taken to CMC with what police described as “life-threatening” injuries. Investigators say there were four adults in the house at the time of the shooting, but they haven’t said whether the shooter was targeting one of those people.

NC Humanities Council Moves To Charlotte
The North Carolina Humanities Council is moving its headquarters to Charlotte. The non-profit provides advocacy and grants activities to support understanding of literature, history, art, music, and philosophy. It’s been based in Greensboro since it was formed in 1972.

Neva Specht is chair of the Council’s Board of Trustees and a dean at Appalachian State University. She says Charlotte offers the Humanities Council new and exciting opportunities for development and collaboration:

“It’s a growing city, there are lots of businesses and non profits that are working there. We saw a lot of potential for partnerships for places like the Levine museum and other cultural areas,” said Specht. 

The North Carolina Humanities Council will open its new offices at the end of January in UNC Charlotte’s Center City building uptown.

Meck Co Maintains AAA Credit Rating
Mecklenburg County is keeping its triple-A credit rating from one of the three-major ratings agencies. Fitch Ratings says Mecklenburg County’s robust economy, lower debt, and excellent expansion prospects contributed to the triple-A rating.

Former Brunswick Sheriff Died From Heart Disease, Not Stun Gun
Former Brunswick County Sheriff Ronald Hewett died from heart disease, not from being hit with a jail guard’s stun gun. That’s according to an autopsy released yesterday. Hewett died last July in the New Hanover County Jail after a fight with guards. The former sherriff was being held on weapons charges. He had previously served a prison term for obstruction of justice. A pathologist says Hewett had a heart condition that was worsened by chronic alcohol abuse and a struggle with deputies.

Cargo Planes Collide, No Injuries
Officials at Fort Bragg say two cargo planes, from the Army and Air Force, collided in mid-air yesterday evening. Both planes landed safely and no injuries have been reported.