North Carolina Man, Dontae Sharpe, Pardoned After Serving 24 Years in Prison

North Carolina Man, Dontae Sharpe, Pardoned After Serving 24 Years in Prison Photo Source: Deborah Griffin/AP

North Carolina resident Dontae Sharpe is now a free man after serving 24 years behind bars for a murder that he did not commit.

North Carolina's Governor, Roy Cooper, announced last week that Sharpe would be granted a pardon of innocence for his wrongful conviction. Sharpe will also be paid $750,000 in compensation for having spent nearly a quarter of a century locked up.

"Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged," Cooper announced after issuing a pardon for Sharpe.

The pardon comes after a close review of Sharpe’s case details that the medical evidence did not support the claim that Sharpe was the murderer. The review also unveiled troubling proceedings, collection of evidence, and recanted testimonies that helped put Sharpe behind bars.

Sharpe was only 19 years old in 1995 when he was given a life sentence for the murder of 33-year old George Radcliffe. In 1994, Radcliffe was found shot dead in the front seat of his truck which had crashed into a chain-link fence. The murder went unsolved for two months until a young teenager came forward and told authorities that she saw a black man shoot Radcliffe during a drug deal gone wrong.

The teenager, 13-year-old Charlene Johnson, was suffering from serious drug addiction at the time of her testimony and was reluctant to testify at the trial. She later revealed that she was given $500 for “coming forward.” It was also exposed that the reluctant witness was taken into custody and then brought into the courtroom to share her testimony.

Months after the trial was over, Johnson recanted her testimony. Johnson explained that she had lied about what she had witnessed and has since maintained that position. More recently in a sworn affidavit, Johnson shared, “My lies have kept Dontae in prison, but they have also been a very heavy burden for me. I feel stuck in Greenville until I fix what I did and Dontae is free.”

After Sharpe’s repeated unsuccessful efforts for a new trial, a former State medical examiner came forward with testimony that the prosecution's theory of how the murder happened did not match up with the medical science. In August of 2019, a judge ordered that new evidence could be brought forward, and after the state declared that they would not move forward with a retrial, Sharpe was ordered to be released from prison.

With the efforts of the NAACP and other racial justice groups, petitions have been made for the state to grant Sharpe clemency. Without it, Sharpe would not be allowed access to compensation for his false imprisonment.

After a phone call from his lawyer explaining that he had been pardoned, Sharp shared with NPR that he was in utter disbelief. "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."

Sharpe shared his elation at the news of his pardon but explained his disappointment at the “corrupt” judicial system. Sharpe explained, "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."

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.