Wake County judge presides over Dontae Sharpe's hearing seeking new trial

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, May 18, 2019
Pitt County man's quest for freedom continues
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There's some new hope for Dontae Sharpe.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The case of Dontae Sharpe went back to the courtroom Friday as the Greenville man argued for a new murder trial

Though Sharp is from Pitt County, the NC NAACP's Free Dontae Sharpe campaign has often led here to Raleigh as civil-rights leaders lobbied the governor or attorney general to help set him free.

Sharpe has been in prison for 24 years for a murder he's always said he did not commit and Friday was a crucial day in a long bid to clear Sharpe's name.

He arrived the courtroom in handcuffs, but smiled to his mother and supporters who've kept his case in the headlines -- in hopes of getting Sharpe a new trial.

"He told me he wasn't giving up," said Sharpe's mother, Sarah Blakley. "He's going to fight for his innocence and we are too."

Sharpe's case became the subject of a TV documentary, "Final Appeal," which recounted the February 1994 Greenville murder of George Radcliff, Sharpe's arrest, subsequent conviction and life sentence for Radcliff's murder.

Sharpe always insisted he didn't do it. The state's only eyewitness recanted her testimony. And the lead police investigator later said Sharpe was wrongfully convicted on dubious evidence.

In court Friday, Dr. Mary Gilliland was the only witness. She testified at Sharpe's original trial. But now, she testified that had she known more about the eyewitness account of the murder back in 90s, she would have told the jury then, it was medically and scientifically impossible for the bullet to have traveled the way prosecutors say it did.

Pitt County prosecutors argued Sharpe's new evidence wasn't new at all -- that numerous appeals and hearings during the 24 years have all found that the eyewitness testimony still holds up -- despite it being recanted. And, that Sharpe's original conviction should stand.

Whether Sharpe gets a new trial is now in the hands of the Wake superior court judge assigned to the case.

"I thank Judge Collins for even taking the case," Blakley said. "I still feel he's going to do us right, and I'm going to trust that and believe that."

Judge Collins told the court he'll consider what he heard but did not give a timetable on when his decision would come.

If a new trial is ordered, The Pitt County District Attorney's office said it would have to decide if enough of the evidence still remains after 25 years to retry Sharpe.