Man released after 24-year false inprisonment in North Carolina

Montoyae Dontae Sharpe finally received a pardon after his case was dismissed in 2019 for lack of evidence

Montoyae Dontae Sharpe, who spent 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, was pardoned on Friday.

“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in a statement on Friday. Sharpe was sentenced to life at 17-years-old for first-degree murder. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

Sharpe was convicted of murder after a key witness lied on the stand, and said that she saw Sharpe kill 33-year-old George Radcliffe. She later revealed that she had made the story up and was not present during the shooting.

The pardon allows the now 41-year-old man to seek up to $750,000 for his wrongful conviction.

In 1995, a teenage Sharpe was arrested and convicted for killing Radcliffe, who was found shot dead in his pickup truck the year prior.

The testimony of Charlene Johnson, a 15-year-old girl, was the most compelling evidence in the case. She said she witnessed Sharpe shoot Radcliffe during an argument over drugs.

However weeks later, Johnson recanted her testimony and admitted that she made it up after hearing what investigators told her. Sharpe, who maintained his innocence throughout the case, still remained in prison.

He relentlessly tried to overturn his conviction but was unsuccessful until 2019.

During the new trial, a former medical examiner testified that she was not fully aware of Johnson’s account, but if she was, she would have told the jury that it was medically and scientifically impossible for the bullet to travel the way the prosecution said it did.

After a judge ordered for more evidence to be presented, the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the murder charge and said they would not seek a retrial due to a lack of evidence.  

Sharpe was freed in August 2019, but his fight for justice did not end there.

Montoyae Dontae Sharpe
Montoyae Dontae Sharpe was pardoned on November 12, 2021 by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, after being wrongly convicted of murder and spending 24-years in prison. (PhotoCred: DEBORAH GRIFFIN/THE DAILY REFLECTOR VIA AP)

Sharpe, along with activist organizations like the NAACP, have been fighting for clemency since the murder charges were dismissed.

A full pardon for a crime means that an individual is completely absolved from the conviction and the consequences of the crime.

“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Rev. Anthony Spearman, who is a North Carolina NAACP leader and among the groups of people who participated in vigils outside of the Governor’s Mansion.

Sharpe said the pardon also helped his family.

“Now my family’s name has been cleared, it lifts a burden off my shoulders,” he told the Charlotte Observer.

Although Sharpe is elated about finally getting justice, he said his work isn’t done.

“My freedom ain’t still complete,” he added. “Know that our system is corrupt and needs to be changed … I’m thankful that I got mine and thankful that other guys are gonna get theirs. That’s what’s important now.”

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