North Carolina Man Pardoned After 24 Years in Prison, Can Apply For $750K in Compensation

Dontae Sharpe, a man who spent 24 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, was pardoned by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday, allowing him to apply for compensation of up to $750,000.

"Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged," Cooper said in a statement that announced the pardon after careful review of the case.

According to The Associated Press, Sharp was given a life sentence at the age of 19 for the first-degree murder of George Radcliffe, 33, in 1995. He was accused of killing Radcliffe a year earlier during a drug deal.

The case against Sharpe depended on testimony from a 15-year old girl who claimed she saw Sharpe kill Radcliffe. She later recanted and said she wasn't present at the time of the shooting. After, she said her claims were made up and based on what investigators told her.

Sharpe maintained his innocence and, in a 2019 interview, said his faith and knowledge he was innocent guided his denials to offers of a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

Sharpe said he was in disbelief Friday when his lawyer called him about news of his pardon. Additionally, he said he was thinking of those who took to the streets and held vigils on his behalf.

"I'm still in a haze kind of," Sharpe 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."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Dontae Sharpe, Roy Cooper, Pardon
In this file photo, Dontae Sharpe breathes the air outside the Pitt County Courthouse after a judge determined he could be set free, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Greenville, N.C. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper pardoned Sharpe on Friday after he spent 24 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Deborah Griffin/The Daily Reflector via AP, File

Sharpe was unsuccessful in his repeated efforts for a new trial until a former state medical examiner testified that the state's theory of the shooting was not medically or scientifically possible. A judge subsequently ordered more evidence to be heard. Sharpe was released from prison in August 2019 after the prosecutor said the state wouldn't pursue a retrial.

The NAACP had long pushed for Sharpe's release over the years and urged Cooper to issue a pardon of innocence. In recent months, racial justice groups have demanded the governor grant Sharpe the clemency needed in order to apply for compensation for his wrongful conviction. They held vigils in front of Cooper's state residence in downtown Raleigh for several weeks.

The Rev. Anthony Spearman, a longtime North Carolina NAACP leader who was among those who participated in a vigil outside the Governor's Mansion pushing for a pardon, said, "This should have happened a long time ago."

Sharpe thanked Cooper but called out a criminal justice system he considers "corrupt." He said he planned to celebrate Friday evening with his family and will continue to press for other inmates to receive justice.

"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," he said.

Roy Cooper, Dontae Sharpe, Pardon
Governor Roy Cooper, D-NC address the crowd during the Rally for Respect outside the North Carolina Legislative Building on May 16, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cooper's pardon allows Dontae Sharpe to apply for compensation of up to $750,000 for wrongful conviction. Sara D. Davis/Getty Images