North Carolina map
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North Carolina’s Dontae Sharpe Freed After Spending 24 Years in Prison for a Crime He Didn’t Commit

A Black North Carolina man has been freed after being wrongfully imprisoned behind bars for 24 years.

Bryan Anderson of the Associated Press reported that on Friday, Nov. 12, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper pardoned Dontae Sharpe, “who spent 24 years behind bars for a murder he has long said he did not commit.”

According to Anderson, “In 1995, Sharpe was given a life sentence at age 19 for the first-degree murder of 33-year-old George Radcliffe, whom he was accused of killing a year earlier during a drug deal. Sharpe had maintained his innocence throughout and said in a 2019 interview that his faith and knowledge he was innocent guided his refusal to accept offers of a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.”

In a virtual press conference held following news of his pardon from the Governor, Sharpe repeatedly thanked those who had protested, taken to the streets, and held vigils on his behalf over the years. He also admitted that he was still in shock that his decades-long ordeal was finally over.

“I’m still in a haze,” 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.”

Investigators into the case say the government’s charges against Sharpe were built around the courtroom testimony of a 15-year-old girl who claimed she saw Sharpe kill Radcliffe. She later admitted she was not present during the event and had made up her story based on “what investigators told her to say.”

“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,” Anderson reported. “The NAACP had long pushed for Sharpe’s release over the years and urged Cooper to issue a pardon of innocence.”

Following a vigil held outside the Governor’s Mansion in Sharpe’s honor, the Rev. Anthony Spearman, a longtime North Carolina NAACP leader, celebrated Sharpe’s pardon but said, “this should have happened a long time ago.”

Now that Gov. Cooper has pardoned him, Sharpe will also now be able to apply for up to $750,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction — a development that a number of different racial justice groups have said should be mandatory for the hardships and injustices he endured throughout his time in prison.

In a statement, Gov. Cooper recognized the state’s role in Sharpe’s unlawful imprisonment and said, “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

Although Sharpe thanked Cooper, he also called out what he described as a “corrupt” justice system, saying, “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.”

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