Dontae Sharpe celebrates new found freedom at Philippi Church of Christ with family, friends and supporters
Friday, August 23, 2019
There were cheers, along with tears.
Dontae Sharpe celebrated his newfound freedom, a day after being released after serving 25 years of a life prison sentence.
Standing among at least 100 family, friends and supporters, which included representatives from the North Carolina NAACP, Sharpe at times was overcome with emotion.
The event took place at Philippi Church of Christ in Greenville. Attending were some of Sharpe’s grandchildren, nieces and nephews he had met only the day before.
Sharpe entered prison at 19 and was released on Thursday, at age 44. Because of the recanted testimony of the only key witness, along with autopsy evidence supporting the original testimony could not be true, by Judge Bryan Collins of Wake County ruled Sharpe should have a new trial in the shooting death of George Radcliffe, a crime Sharpe said he did not commit.
Pitt County Assistant District Attorney Valerie Pearce said she would not pursue a new trial because of the age of the case and credibility of testimony.
Collins set a $100,000 unsecured bond for Sharpe, which allowed him to walk free a short time after his ruling.
Sharpe’s family has fought for his freedom over two decades. They gathered on Friday to show their continued support.
In the packed fellowship hall of Philippi, Sharpe said he had a lot of catching up to do.
On Thursday he spent time with his family, getting to know the children who were yet to be born when he went to jail. He went in as a teen and came out a grandfather.
“I’m like a new toy to them,” he said.
His brother, Jamall, said they talked into the wee hours of the morning. He was 14 when Dontae was sent to jail.
Sharpe said he didn’t sleep 30 minutes the whole night.
Many things, he discovered, had changed in the 25 years he was in jail.
Laughing, he said he needs to figure out how the internet and smartphones work.
Sharpe ate at the Mayflower with family and said he was happy to eat anything that was not prison food.
“Right now, I just need to get my feet back under me and get used to no fences,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe's mother, Sarah Blakley, said she was glad it was all over.
“I’m tired,” she said. “I’m ready to get some rest. Dontae needs to adjust, and we need to adjust to him.”
Later in the evening, Blakley said she still sees Sharpe as her baby. Dontae is her first born.
She said she is trying to get used to the fact that he now is a man.
A few times, Sharpe was moved to tears, especially when his Aunt Sharon, his mother’s sister, was mentioned.
Sharon Sharpe was instrumental in fighting the charges against Dontae, but passed away from cancer in 2015.
“She was supposed to be here,” Dontae said through his tears.
Jamall said their Aunt Sharon fought for Dontae’s freedom from the very beginning.
“I wish she could have been here today to see it," he said. "She was there every step of the way — from the first day. She went to every visit and would explain to us what was going on."
Sharpe’s lawyers attended the celebration, as well as Caitlin Swain, co-director of Forward Justice, a center on law, policy and strategy. She said her life was forever changed when she met Sharpe as a law student was became convinced of his innocence. She was a student under Sharpe's lawyer, Theresa Newman.
“I am so glad to be a part of this homecoming celebration. It is a beautiful day for justice in Pitt County," Swain shouted to a cheering crowd.