A 46-year-old Black man who spent 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit was pardoned on Friday (Nov. 12) by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
Gov. Cooper’s pardon arrives two years after a judge vacated Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s conviction in 2019, after finding out that a 15-year-old witness delivered a fictitious testimony.
“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” Gov. Cooper said in a statement. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”
According to The Washington Post, Sharpe received the news on Friday from his attorney Theresa A. Newman. “Theresa called me and said, ‘Hey, Mr. Pardon Man.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean, “Mr. Pardon Man?”’” Sharpe told The Washington Post. “She said, ‘The governor just pardoned you.’ That just left me smiling on my couch and kind of awestruck.”
Newman states that the pardon clears the way for Sharpe to seek compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction. He can seek up to a total of $750,000, which is $50,000 for each year he spent imprisoned.
Sharpe’s exoneration and his pardon were largely due to the work of a nonpartisan law, policy, and strategy center called Forward Justice, and the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, who launched effective campaigns on Sharpe’s behalf. “My name has been cleared, and me and my family can move on,” Sharpe told reporters on Friday. “I can go on with the next stage of my life, which is to still help other guys behind me.”
Sharpe was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of George Radcliffe in 1995. During the trial, Charlene Johnson, a teenager, testified that she saw Sharpe shoot Mr. Radcliffe, who was white, over a drug deal, according to Newman.
Johnson testified that Sharpe and another man put Radcliffe’s dead body back into his truck, crashed it into a lot and threw away the key, Ms. Newman said. Weeks later, Johnson would recant her testimony, however Sharpe remained imprisoned until a Superior Court judge in Pitt County, N.C. vacated Sharpe’s conviction, released him from prison in 2019 and granted him a mistrial. The Pitt County District Attorney’s Office tossed the murder charge against Sharpe out, and refused to retry the case, The New York Times reports.
Per Forward Justice’s site, Sharpe joined the Forward Justice team as the founding Fellow in the Returning in Service and Excellence (RISE) Fellowship and has become an advocate and leader for criminal justice reform since his release. He speaks at colleges in North Carolina about his experience, the corruption in the criminal legal system, and the need for widespread reform to stop wrongful convictions.