RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A woman whose rights allegedly were violated by an attorney trying to prove her client's innocence in a double murder testified at a disciplinary hearing Monday that she now believes the lawyer was trying to help the cause of justice.
"I went back and did research, and she has done a tremendous job," Marie Andrus testified at the hearing for attorney Chris Mumma before a three-person panel of the North Carolina State Bar.
Andrus, who once wrote in an email that she didn't want Mumma to set foot on her property again, testified that she had changed her mind. "Because she is welcome today, OK?" she said.
Mumma is charged with violating the rules of professional conduct for attorneys while representing Joseph Sledge, who served almost 40 years for a double murder before being released in January 2015.
The complaint says that during a visit to the home of Andrus, Mumma left with a water bottle that didn't belong to her. When she realized this, she didn't return the bottle to Andrus. When Andrus declined to provide family members' DNA samples, Mumma submitted the bottle for DNA testing anyway. In November 2013, she learned the DNA didn't match the crime scene evidence.
Mumma then called Andrus back and asked if anyone else had been in the home during their earlier interview. She again requested DNA samples, which Andrus again refused to provide, the complaint says.
When Andrus left the hearing Monday, she and Mumma hugged.
Sledge, who attended Monday's hearing, said he believes the charges against Mumma are an attack on efforts in North Carolina to release the wrongly imprisoned. Mumma is executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, a nonprofit advocacy group that investigates innocence claims, and was integral to the establishment of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state agency whose work can result in the release of the wrongly imprisoned.
"I think it's a waste of time and expenditure for no good reason," he said during a break in the hearing, calling the hearing "a political scheme to undermine" innocence advocacy work.
In addition to Sledge, four other men whom Mumma represented attended the hearing at various times throughout the first day of the hearing, including Greg Taylor, who served almost 17 years for a murder he didn't commit. He was the first person released through the work of the Innocence Inquiry Commission.
Before the hearing began, the panel rejected a motion from state bar prosecutors for a partial summary judgment or a ruling without hearing evidence that Mumma had violated the rules of professional conduct. The panel would have been left to decide a few issues, including what punishment Mumma should receive. The panel rejected the motion unanimously.
The state bar has scheduled five days for the hearing. If the panel finds that Mumma violated rules, it can issue discipline ranging from admonishment to disbarment.
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner