Dontae Sharpe, who was released from state prison in 2019 after serving 24 years for a murder conviction, was granted a full Pardon of Innocence by North Carolina Governor Ray Cooper, ABC 11 reported.
Throughout the entire ordeal, Sharpe has maintained his innocence.
Cooper announced the pardon in an official statement, WCNT reports.
“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” Cooper said. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”
According to the report, with the lack of forensic evidence and when expert testimony discredited the prosecution's argument about the murder, the district attorney of Pitt County dropped the case and Sharpe was freed.
Although Sharpe’s conviction was vacated, a pardon can lead to a path towards financial compensation for the time he served and the expungement of DNA samples and evidence.
"We all did what we were supposed to do. We went through the system you set up, filing motions, appeals, go up and down the courts until you get exonerated," Sharpe said. "Then when you're exonerated, you want to get pardoned."
Sharpe's case garnered national attention and became the subject of a TV documentary, Final Appeal. The documentary gave a detailed account of George Radcliff’s murder, Sharpe's arrest, conviction, and his sentence to life in prison.
When Sharpe was granted a new trial in 2019, the state's only eyewitness recanted her testimony and the lead police investigator stated that Sharpe was wrongfully convicted on a lack of evidence.
At a hearing in 2019, Dr. Mary Gilliland, a former medical examiner, testified that if she was privy to the eyewitness account of the murder back in the '90s, she would have informed the jury that it was both medically and scientifically impossible for the bullet to have traveled the way prosecutors claimed.
For years, the NAACP lobbied Gov. Cooper for Sharpe's release and since September, held vigils outside of the Governor's Mansion.
Rev. Anthony Spearman, one of the leaders of the North Carolina NAACP said, “This should have happened a long time ago.”
Outside of the governor's mansion on Friday, a group of activists and supporters of Sharpe celebrated his hard-fought victory.
"Some folks have said to me, 'you can go home tonight.' And I will. But tomorrow is another day," he said.
"You know, people say I want the money. Yeah, the money, we did, we deserve the money," he continued. "Not just me, but anybody that's been exonerated deserves that money. And it's not just money, you get a peace of mind and you get a weight lifted off the shoulder, you know, from carrying around that burden of people still looking at you like you might be a murderer."