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Gov. Cooper should delay no longer in pardoning exonerated man

Image: Screenshot from BBC documentary

Dontae Sharpe’s supporters will gather this afternoon outside the Governor’s Mansion to renew their pleas for justice

In 2019, after having been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for more than a quarter century for a murder he didn’t commit, a Greenville man named Dontae Sharpe was released from prison by a North Carolina judge.

Click here to watch a powerful BBC documentary that tells the story of Sharpe’s wrongful conviction at age 19 and ultimate exoneration.

As the documentary also explains, since his release, Sharpe has sought a state pardon so that he can have his record cleared and get on with what’s left of the rest of his life.

This shouldn’t even be necessary. When the state is found to have erred so egregiously and wrongfully stolen the best years of a person’s life, such pardons – along with financial compensation – ought to be automatic. This is actually the case in some jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, North Carolina law makes no such provision and so the matter is left exclusively up to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Reverends Barber and Spearman at Thursday’s press conference

Yesterday, at press event outside the Governor’s office, advocates — including national Poor People’s Campaign leader Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, Diana Powell of the group Justice Served NC and Dennis Gaddy of the Community Success Initiative — revealed that, after years of pleas from Sharpe’s family, lawyers, civil rights advocates and others, a Cooper assistant had recently indicated that a pardon might be in the offing, but probably not until the end of the year.

This is simply wrong. As all the speakers yesterday repeatedly and persuasively explained, a deserving person like Sharpe who’s been so horrendously and wrongfully punished for so long should not have to wait another day for justice.

Indeed, they said, it is offensive and smells of politics that Sharpe’s pardon might be “batched” with a group of holiday season pardons when it could be granted now.

The bottom line: Gov. Roy Cooper has been an extraordinary chief executive for North Carolina over the last nearly five years. On issue after issue, he’s battled the forces of reaction and prejudice and done his best to move our state forward.

In the case of Dontae Sharpe, however, he’s making a big and inexplicable mistake. The Governor should come address protesters at this afternoon’s “freedom vigil” and issue the pardon immediately. Click here to watch the vigil online.

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Gov. Cooper should delay no longer in pardoning exonerated man