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North Carolina man wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years pardoned | US news

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A North Carolina man who spent 24 years behind bars for a murder he has long said he did not commit has been pardoned by the statexe2x80x99s governor.

Dontae Sharpe has been out of prison since 2019 and the pardon allows him to apply for compensation of up to $750,000 for his wrongful conviction.

xe2x80x9cMr Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged,xe2x80x9d the governor, Roy Cooper, said.

In 1995, Sharpe was given a life sentence at age 19 for the first-degree murder of 33-year-old George Radcliffe, whom he was accused of killing a year earlier during a drug deal. Sharpe had maintained his innocence throughout and said in a 2019 interview that his faith and knowledge he was innocent guided his refusal to accept offers of a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

At a virtual news conference on Friday just an hour after Cooperxe2x80x99s announcement, Sharpe said he was in disbelief when his lawyer called him with the news. He said he was still processing it and also was thinking of those who had taken to the streets and held vigils on his behalf.

xe2x80x9cIxe2x80x99m still in a haze, kind of,xe2x80x9d Sharpe said. xe2x80x9cWhen youxe2x80x99re dealing with us human beings, it can go any way, yes and no. I didnxe2x80x99t know what to expect. I was believing for a pardon.xe2x80x9d

The governmentxe2x80x99s case against Sharpe relied in part on testimony from a 15-year-old girl at the time who claimed she saw Sharpe kill Radcliffe but later recanted and said she wasnxe2x80x99t present at the time of the shooting. She later said her claims were made up, based on what investigators told her.

Sharpe was unsuccessful in his repeated efforts for a new trial until a former state medical examiner testified that the statexe2x80x99s theory of the shooting was not medically or scientifically possible. A judge subsequently ordered more evidence to be heard. Sharpe was released from prison in August 2019 after the prosecutor said the state wouldnxe2x80x99t pursue a retrial.

The NAACP had long pushed for Sharpexe2x80x99s release. In recent months, racial justice groups have demanded the governor grant Sharpe the clemency needed in order to apply for compensation for his wrongful conviction. They held vigils in front of Cooperxe2x80x99s state residence in downtown Raleigh for several weeks.

Anthony Spearman, a longtime North Carolina NAACP leader who was among those who participated in a vigil outside the governorxe2x80x99s mansion, said: xe2x80x9cThis should have happened a long time ago.xe2x80x9d

Sharpe said he will continue to press for other inmates to receive justice.

xe2x80x9cMy freedom is still incomplete as long as therexe2x80x99s still people going to prison wrongfully, if therexe2x80x99s still people in prison wrongfully and therexe2x80x99s still people that are waiting on pardons,xe2x80x9d he said.