North Carolina's NAACP chapter, which usually supports Democrats, is withholding an annual honor from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper because the group wants him to pardon a man they say was wrongly convicted of murder and Cooper has not done so.
Cooper's office on Friday declined to comment on the NAACP's decision to shut out the governor from its annual convention this weekend as the civil rights group presses Cooper to pardon a prisoner who's been behind bars for 22 years.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the chapter, informed Cooper in a letter last week he wouldn't "extend the customary honorary welcome to you" because the governor hasn't done enough to free Montoyae "Dontae" Sharpe, 42. The NAACP's leaders have called Sharpe an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted for a murder he didn't commit. The group this weekend will honor Sharpe's mother, Sarah Blakely, in Cooper's place, Barber said.
"Knowing the violence that continues to be done by the state of North Carolina - and understanding that you can prevent it, but to this point have refrained from using the power of your office to do so_we cannot honor you both," Barber wrote.
Cooper, a former state attorney general, said in a letter to Barber last week that he's disappointed.
Sharpe has insisted he didn't kill 33-year-old George Radcliffe in Greenville during a drug buy in 1994. Barber said that's why Sharpe rejected a plea deal for a lesser sentence that might have meant his freedom years ago. No physical evidence linked Sharpe to the crime. An eyewitness recanted her testimony and a former Greenville police homicide detective who testified against Sharpe at trial now believes he was wrongly convicted because of dubious testimony.
The NAACP last year began efforts to free Sharpe. It also worked to free Kalvin Michael Smith, who was convicted for assaulting a pregnant woman in a Winston-Salem store in 1995. Smith served 20 years of a 29-year sentence behind bars before a judge ordered him released in November.
A request to grant Sharpe clemency is being reviewed, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in an email Friday. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory didn't act on a similar clemency request. Attorney General Josh Stein, who succeeded Cooper in January, is reviewing Sharpe's case, Stein spokeswoman Laura Brewer said in April. She didn't respond to an email Friday seeking new information.