Dontae Sharpe: Man wrongfully jailed for 24 years despite state witness admitting she lied is finally pardoned

Dontae Sharpe is given a full pardon by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper after fighting to clear his name for more than two decades

Rachel Sharp
Saturday 13 November 2021 15:09
<p>Dontae Sharpe breathing the air outside the Pitt County Courthouse in November 2019 after he finally walked free after spending 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit </p>

Dontae Sharpe breathing the air outside the Pitt County Courthouse in November 2019 after he finally walked free after spending 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit

A man who spent 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, despite a key state witness admitting she had lied in court, has finally been pardoned.

Dontae Sharpe was granted a full pardon by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper on Friday after spending more than two decades fighting to clear his name.

Mr Sharpe was just 19 years old when he was arrested and charged with the 1994 murder of 33-year-old George Radcliffe in Greenville, North Carolina, during what prosecutors said was a drug deal gone wrong.

His conviction was largely based on the testimony of a 15-year-old girl who claimed she saw Mr Sharpe, who is Black, shoot and kill Mr Radcliffe, who was white.

The girl admitted at Mr Sharpe’s trial that she had been paid $500 to come forward.

Mr Sharpe was found guilty of first-degree murder at his 1995 trial and sentenced to life in prison.

Just two months after the trial, the witness admitted she had lied in court and wasn’t actually present at the time of the shooting.

Ever since, she has continued to maintain that her testimony was false, saying she felt pressured to lie and that her account was based on what investigators told her had happened.

Mr Sharpe always maintained his innocence and fought against his conviction for 24 years before he was finally exonerated and released from prison in 2019.

His release came after a judge ruled that the witness’s testimony was “entirely made up” and after the medical examiner who had testified at the trial said the shooting was “medically and scientifically impossible”.

Dr Mary Gilliland said she only heard about the witness’s testimony after the trial and that the account “didn’t line up with the trajectory of the bullet through the body”.

The judge ordered Mr Sharpe’s release from prison and granted his motion for a new trial.

The same day, the district attorney’s office dismissed the murder charge against him and said the state wouldn’t pursue a retrial.

Mr Sharpe then spent the last two years fighting for a full pardon.

The local NAACP chapter joined in the fight, staging campouts outside the governor’s Executive Mansion in Raleigh every night since September.

Governor Cooper finally granted Mr Sharpe a pardon this week.

“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

“Mr Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

Mr Sharpe said at a press conference on Friday that he couldn’t believe he was finally pardoned saying he was “still in a haze”.

"My family’s name has been cleared. It’s a burden off of my shoulders and my family’s shoulders,” he said.

The pardon now paves the way for Mr Sharpe to pursue compensation of up to $750,000 from the state for his wrongful conviction.

However, Mr Sharpe said he will continue to fight for justice for other people who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

"My freedom still ain’t complete as long as there are people wrongfully in prison, wrongfully convicted, and people waiting on pardons," he said.

"I’ve been in there and know there are guys that are innocent and know that our system is corrupt and needs to be changed."

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