A North Carolina man who spent over 24 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit was on Friday granted pardon by Governor Roy Cooper. According to The New York Times, the pardon comes after a judge vacated Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s conviction in 2019.
The Black man’s conviction was overturned after it was established the key witness who testified during his trial “entirely made up” her account of the killing. The pardon will now allow Sharpe, 46, to file for compensation from the state. Should the compensation be granted, the state would have to pay Sharpe $50,000 for each year he spent wrongfully locked up. However, the most he can receive is $750,000.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Sharpe said. “My name has been cleared, and me and my family can move on. And I can go on with the next stage of my life, which is to still help other guys behind me.”
Sharpe received a life sentence in 1995 after he was found guilty of fatally shooting George Radcliffe, a White man, in 1994. And during his trial, the key witness, identified as Charlene Johnson, testified that she saw Sharpe open fire on Radcliffe after the two got into an altercation during a drug deal, Theresa A. Newman, who is one of Sharpe’s lawyers, said. Johnson was 15 at the time.
Following the shooting, Johnson claimed Sharpe and another man put the deceased White man’s body in his pickup truck before plowing it into a vacant parking lot. Johnson also claimed the two men then disposed of the key.
Johnson, however, recanted her testimony some weeks later, The New York Times reported. Sharpe’s conviction was ultimately overturned in 2019. That was after two evidential hearings were held.
Following the second hearing, the presiding judge, G. Bryan Collins Jr., established that if the case was retried, Johnson would testify that “she was not present at the time of the shooting and that her trial testimony was entirely made up based on what she saw on television and what investigators told her.”
Dr. Mary Gilliland, the medical examiner who took the stand during Sharpe’s trial, also got to know about Johnson’s testimony “well after the trial was over,” the judge also found. The judge established that if Dr. Gilliland took the stand at a retrial, she would testify that Johnson’s earlier account of what transpired during the shooting was “medically and scientifically impossible.”
Radcliffe sustained a gunshot wound in the arm, and Johnson had said the confrontation between Sharpe and Radcliffe was face-to-face. But Newman said Johnson’s claim “didn’t line up with the trajectory of the bullet through the body.”
Sharpe’s conviction was ultimately vacated, and the judge gave the green light for a retrial. The Pitt County District Attorney’s Office refused to pursue the case, citing insufficient evidence.
“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” Gov. Cooper said. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”