A Wake County judge has ruled that new evidence can be considered in a 1994 murder that sent a man to prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
Wake County judge Bryan Collins ordered a hearing to be held in August for Dontae Sharpe, Pitt County Assistant District Attorney Valerie Pearce said Tuesday when asked for an update on the case. Collins has been appointed to hear the case because of conflicts with local judges.
Sharpe, 44, was convicted in 1995 in the shooting death of George Radcliffe, 33. Radcliffe was found dead in a small Mazda pickup truck about 9:15 p.m. on Feb. 11, 1994.
Sharpe’s attorney, Theresa Newman, said in a May 17 hearing that the truck crashed in a vacant lot at the corner of Sheppard and West Sixth Street, an area in Greenville known for drug activity at the time.
Medical examiner Dr. Mary Gilliland testified at trial about the side-to-side path of the bullet that killed Radcliffe. At the time she was unaware that the state’s principal witness had testified that Radcliffe was facing his killer, Gilliland testified on May 17.
“The new evidence is, now that she knows this, her opinion is that the state’s theory is medically and scientifically impossible,” Newman said.
Newman requested during the May hearing that the court grant a motion for relief to give Sharpe a new trial or overturn his conviction. Both Newman and Pearce presented briefs for Collins to consider.
Collins’ ruling, which has not yet been made public, says Gilliland’s testimony is indeed newly discovered evidence. Sharpe’s lawyers must prove six more factors before a motion for appropriate relief is granted, Pearce said. Those factors are:
- The newly discovered evidence is probably true.
- The evidence is material, competent and relevant.
- Due diligence was used and proper means were employed to procure the testimony at trial.
- The evidence is not merely cumulative or corroborative
- The evidence does not merely tend to contradict, impeach or discredit the testimony of a former witness.
- The evidence is of such a nature that a different result will probably be reached at a new trial.
“The law requires a seven-part test to determine whether there’s new evidence and whether that new evidence requires relief for the defendant,” Pearce said.
“The judge is ordering we hold a full evidentiary hearing to look at those other factors, in August,” she said. “If the judge finds these factors, he can set aside the defendant’s conviction and award him a new trial.”
Pearce said the state would have reassess all evidence and testimony to determine whether to proceed.
“That would be very difficult,” Pearce said.