For eight nights, this has been the nightly routine of the 70-year-old president of the North Carolina NAACP: sleeping in the car by night, and from dawn to dusk he leads this sit-in.
It's been two years since Dontae Sharpe was released from state prison after serving 26 years for a 1994 murder in Greenville. Sharpe always maintained his innocence. He was granted a new trial in 2019. Expert testimony discredited the prosecution's theory about the shooting. With no forensic evidence -- the Pitt County district attorney dropped the case. Sharpe was freed.
For the 8th night in a row, NC NAACP President T. Anthony Spearman is protesting outside the Executive Mansion; demanding a full pardon for Dontae Sharpe who served 26 years after a wrongful conviction for murder. #abc11 pic.twitter.com/HoanRcs4q6— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) September 30, 2021
But the first murder conviction remains on his record.
"He's now stained. He's being treated as if he's a criminal. And he's an innocent man," Spearman said.
RELATED: Exonerated of murder, Dontae Sharpe seeks full pardon from Gov. Cooper
In a Zoom interview with Sharpe on Wednesday evening, he talked about his feelings on the protest efforts to clear his name once and for all.
"It feels good, man," he said.
With no pardon, he says starting over has been a struggle.
"I couldn't get a job because of my notoriety or my case in Greenville, North Carolina and Pitt County -- I couldn't get a job," Sharpe said. "One job at a furniture store hung up on me twice when they heard my name."
Back at the Executive Mansion, Spearman now has teammates in the cause.
Sharpe is now free but the murder conviction remains on his record. Spearman, who’s been sleeping in his car outside the mansion between protesting, says he won’t leave until Gov. Cooper grants the pardon that would allow Sharpe to move on with his life. #abc11 pic.twitter.com/9bPh2CGdCy— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) September 30, 2021
Deborah Howard, a 60-year-old grandmother came from New Bern when she heard about the case.
"Just allow him to receive his pardon and be free, be a free man," Howard said.
Raleigh activist Diana Powell, executive director of Justice Served NC, has been here day and night as well. She's losing patience with the pace of the pardon.
"They're always telling us to wait. They say wait. We always have to wait. Why do we have to wait? No, do it now. No more waiting. Dontae waited 26 years," Powell said.
In a statement to ABC11 from Cooper's office, a spokesperson wrote, "The governor thus far has issued seven pardons of innocence and the office has received the application of Mr. Dontae Sharpe among others. The governor plans to make decisions on this and other cases by the end of the year."
Spearman and the group said they have been told as much. They said it's not good enough. They want the pardon now and vow to stay until it comes.