Dontae Sharpe, who is Black, can now seek as much as $750,000 in compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction.
A man who spent 24 years behind bars for a murder he has long said he did not commit was finally granted a full pardon by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday. Dontae Sharpe, who is Black, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison at age 19 for the first-degree murder of a white man in Greenville in 1994. According to NPR, the government's case against the then-teen relied in part on a 15-year-old girl's testimony who claimed she saw Sharpe kill 33-year-old George Radcliffe during a drug deal. However, she recanted her testimony months after the trial and admitted that her claims were made up based on what investigators told her.
Dontae Sharpe, who was convicted in 1995 of killing George Radcliffe, is now able to apply for up to $750,000 compensation for his wrongful conviction, after North Carolina governor Roy Cooper declared him innocent https://t.co/2Gnwimw2XC— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 13, 2021
It still took over two decades for Sharpe to be exonerated and released from prison as he was unsuccessful in his repeated efforts for a new trial. It was only when a former state medical examiner testified that the state's theory of the shooting was not medically or scientifically possible that a judge subsequently ordered more evidence to be heard. Upon finding that a key witness in the case had "entirely made up" her testimony, on August 22, 2019, judge G. Bryan Collins Jr. vacated Sharpe's conviction and released him from prison. According to The Washington Post, the Pitt County District Attorney's Office also dismissed his murder charge and vowed not to retry the case based on the lack of evidence.
North Carolina man Dontae Sharpe pardoned after spending 24 years in prison for murder he didn’t commit https://t.co/l7Qn2IubOI— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 13, 2021
As soon as he was freed, Sharpe knew the next step was to get a pardon from the state. Two years later, Theresa A. Newman — one of Sharpe's attorneys — gave him the news he'd been waiting for. "Theresa called me and said, 'Hey, Mr. Pardon Man.' I was like, 'What do you mean, 'Mr. Pardon Man?''" he said. "She said, 'The governor just pardoned you.' That just left me smiling on my couch and kind of awestruck."
"Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged," Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement announcing that he had pardoned the man after a careful review of the case. Newman explained that the governor's pardon allows Sharpe — now 46 — to seek as much as $750,000 in compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction. At a virtual news conference just an hour after Cooper's announcement, Sharpe said he was still processing it and was also thinking of those who had taken to the streets and held vigils on his behalf.
Breaking News: @NC_Governor @RoyCooperNC has granted a pardon of innocence to Dontae Sharpe, a former client of @DukeLaw's Wrongful Convictions Clinic. An official recognition of Dontae's innocence by the State of North Carolina. pic.twitter.com/hsKpRFOMm3— Jamie Lau (@LauDurham) November 12, 2021
"I'm still in a haze kind of," he said. "When you're dealing with us human beings, it can go any way, yes and no. I didn't know what to expect. I was believing for a pardon." However, the road to being granted the pardon was an "emotional roller coaster," Sharpe said. "I have been kind of disappointed and angry at the system and how it works," he added. "I had no idea that I would have to fight all those years to get exonerated and then come out here and fight again to get my pardon."
"What's so important about this pardon is it is an acknowledgment of the truth, and that's a necessary step in reckoning with how broken the system is," said Caitlin Swain, another of Sharpe's attorneys. Sharpe — a fellow with Forward Justice, an organization advocating for criminal justice reform in North Carolina — revealed that he is now thinking of what he can do to help others who are wrongfully imprisoned. "The only way forward for me is to bring about change in the criminal justice system," he said. "It's a slow process, but I'm 46, not 86. I got time to do things." Calling out a criminal justice system he considers "corrupt," he added: "My freedom is still incomplete as long as there's still people going to prison wrongfully if there's still people in prison wrongfully and there's still people that are waiting on pardons."