On Friday, Governor Roy Cooper pardoned Dontae Sharpe, a Charlotte man who spent more than 26 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. The pardon comes two years after Sharpe was exonerated. 

Sharpe is now qualified to file a claim under a North Carolina law that allows people wrongly convicted of felonies to receive compensation. He’ll be eligible to receive $50,000 for each year spent in prison, up to a maximum of $750,000.

“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a press release Friday. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

At only 19 years old, Sharpe was accused of murdering 33-year-old George Radcliff in 1994 and was sentenced to life in prison in 1995.

From the beginning, Sharpe, who is now 46 years old, maintained his innocence. 

According to the pardon, the prosecution’s theory of the shooting that killed Radcliff was discredited by expert testimony, and Sharpe was granted a new trial in 2019. Lacking forensic evidence, Pitt County’s district attorney declined to pursue a new trial. 

Sharpe and his supporters felt the official pardon did not come fast enough. 

Though he walked free in 2019, Sharpe’s pardon sat on Gov. Cooper’s desk for two years. Without the full pardon, Sharpe was not entitled to compensation and told supporters it was difficult for him to find work. 

To urge Cooper to sign the pardon, activists held sit-in vigils outside the Governor’s mansion starting back in September, which lasted up until the pardon came down. The NAACP and other social justice organizations have advocated for Sharpe’s release over the years and urged Cooper to issue a pardon of innocence. Petitions for Sharpe’s pardon also circulated widely on social media. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Sharpe told the New York Times in an interview Friday. “My name has been cleared, and me and my family can move on. And I can go on with the next stage of my life, which is to still help other guys behind me.” 

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