A North Carolina man wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned for 26 years has been granted a full pardon by the governor.
Dontae Sharpe had fought to prove his innocence since his 1994 arrest. He was released from prison in August 2019.
“My family’s name has been cleared,” he told reporters on Friday. “It’s a burden off of my shoulders and my family’s shoulders.”
The news follows a BBC documentary on the miscarriage of justice in his case.
Mr Sharpe’s story highlighted how it can take years to get a full pardon even after a person is exonerated and wins their freedom.
Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement announcing the pardon that he had carefully reviewed the case, and those who have been wrongly convicted like Mr Sharpe “deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged”.
With the full pardon, Mr Sharpe will be able to file a request for compensation from the state.
“My freedom still ain’t complete as long as there are people wrongfully in prison, wrongfully convicted, and people waiting on pardons,” Mr Sharpe added.
“I’ve been in there and know there are guys that are innocent and know that our system is corrupt and needs to be changed.”
Mr Sharpe is a fellow with Forward Justice, where he advocates for criminal justice reform in North Carolina.
He was convicted on a first-degree murder charge over the killing of George Radcliffe. Months after the trial, a teenage eyewitness for the state recanted her testimony.
It still took over two decades for Mr Sharpe to be exonerated and released from prison.
Now Dontae Sharpe’s work truly begins
When I met Dontae Sharpe earlier this summer he told me he would dedicate the rest of his life to fixing America’s criminal justice system.
Now that he’s free – after nearly 30 years fighting to overturn a wrongful conviction and receive a full pardon – that work truly begins.
Since 1989, more than 2,887 people have been exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry notes their convictions amount to nearly 25,000 years wrongfully spent behind bars.
Ultimately, Mr Sharpe’s freedom was solely in the hands of North Carolina’s Governor, Roy Cooper, who only signed his pardon today after supporters spent years petitioning the state.
His lawyer, Caitlin Swain, said Mr Sharpe’s battle is proof that there has to be a better way to do justice in North Carolina and this country.
It took decades of fighting and an army of dedicated lawyers, pastors, supporters and family members for Mr Sharpe to ultimately get his conviction overturned.
As he takes the evening – and the coming months – to process what this freedom means, he told me his focus remains on the people he left behind: “Our system is corrupt and it needs to change.”