RALEIGH, N.C. — On Friday, Governor Roy Cooper granted a Pardon of Innocence for Montoyae Dontae Sharpe.

Mr. Sharpe’s pardon application was thoroughly reviewed by the Office of Executive Clemency, the Office of the General Counsel and the Governor.

“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” said Governor Cooper. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

Read the full pardon order for Montoyae Dontae Sharpe.

This pardon makes Sharpe eligible to file a claim under North Carolina law, which allows compensation to persons wrongly convicted of felonies.

Sharpe was convicted in the 1994 murder of George Radcliffe. Attorney’s for Sharpe argued that false testimony sent their client to prison for 25 years. Sharpe maintained his innocence in the death of Radcliffe.

He was released from prison in 2019.

At a virtual news conference Friday just an hour after Cooper’s 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.

“I’m still in a haze kind of,” Sharpe said. “When you’re dealing with us human beings, it can go any way, yes and no. I didn’t know what to expect. I was believing for a pardon.”

The government’s 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 wasn’t 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 state’s 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 wouldn’t pursue a retrial.

The NAACP had long pushed for Sharpe’s release over the years and urged Cooper to issue a pardon of innocence. 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 Cooper’s state residence in downtown Raleigh for several weeks.

The Rev. Anthony Spearman, a longtime North Carolina NAACP leader who was among those who participated in a vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion pushing for a pardon, said, “This should have happened a long time ago.”

Sharpe thanked Cooper but called out a criminal justice system he considers “corrupt.” He said he planned to celebrate Friday evening with his family and will continue to press for other inmates to receive justice.

“My freedom is still incomplete as long as there’s still people going to prison wrongfully, if there’s still people in prison wrongfully and there’s still people that are waiting on pardons,” he said.