State News

Efforts continue to free NC man imprisoned for 1994 murder

Posted April 12
Updated April 13

— Advocates for a North Carolina man imprisoned for almost 22 years for a murder he says he didn't commit are still trying to free him, even as chances dwindle for a legal remedy.

The state chapter of the NAACP is holding events Thursday for Dontae Sharpe, who was 19 when he received a life sentence for the murder of 33-year-old George Radcliffe in Greenville. Legal documents show Radcliffe was shot during a drug buy in 1994.

No physical evidence linked Sharpe to the crime. A teenage eyewitness recanted her testimony just months after the trial. Another witness recanted, then retracted the recantation. A former Greenville police homicide detective who testified against Sharpe at trial, Carolyn Melvin, now believes he was wrongly convicted because of dubious testimony.

"This young man is innocent, and I hurt for him and I hurt for his family," Melvin said in a phone interview Thursday.

Although Sharpe still has some possibilities for relief in state and federal courts, the case is "at the last hour, legally speaking," said attorney Theresa Newman, co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke University. "There's not much left to do."

She's filed a clemency request with Gov. Roy Cooper's office, just as she did with his predecessor, Gov. Pat McCrory, who didn't act on the request.

In addition, Newman said, Pitt County District Attorney Kimberly Robb said she would conduct a "fresh eyes" investigation of the case, but she hasn't heard back on the status of that investigation. Robb didn't respond to phone or email messages from The Associated Press.

"I do not believe it's possible for her office to do a 'fresh eyes' investigation because of her professional association with Clark Everett," the former district attorney who prosecuted Sharpe. Everett remains on Robb's staff as an assistant district attorney.

The NAACP began an effort last year to free Sharpe and Kalvin Michael Smith, who was convicted for assaulting a pregnant woman in a Winston-Salem store in 1995. Smith served 20 years of a 29-year sentence behind bars before a judge ordered him released in November 2016. He's still fighting to be exonerated.

"Dontae has spent over half his life behind bars because he maintains his innocence," the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, said in a news release.

"If he'd confessed to the crime he was convicted of he would be home today," Barber added. "Dontae's youth, freedom and life are being stolen by the criminal justice (system) that should have been protecting his innocence."

Sharpe's supporters will hold a news conference Thursday at Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield, where Sharpe is held. Later, they plan to speak in downtown Raleigh, then march to the offices of Cooper, who previously was the attorney general, and Attorney General Josh Stein.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said the clemency request is being reviewed, while Stein spokeswoman Laura Brewer said the attorney general's office is reviewing the case.

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Follow Martha Waggoner at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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