RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Civil rights activists and clergy members rallied outside Gov. Roy Cooper’s office on Thursday, demanding he grants an immediate pardon of innocence for Dontae Sharpe.

“It’s not just about me. It’s six other guys that are waiting on pardons, too,” Sharpe said. He spent 26 years in a North Carolina prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

“And I want to talk to him about getting pardons mandatory as soon as you get exonerated.”

A Greenville judge exonerated Sharpe in 2019. He’s been fighting to get a pardon since.

“You fight all them years in prison to prove you’re innocent and nobody listens to you and then you get it, if you do get exonerated, you have to come out here and continue to fight,” Sharpe said of the lengthy process.

When CBS17 asked Sharpe if he felt free, he said, “Partially; it’s like one handcuff is on and the other one is dangling. That’s about how I feel because until I get my pardon, I still got the handcuff.”

Since taking office in 2017, Cooper has pardoned seven people. It’s unclear why Sharpe’s application for a pardon hasn’t been approved.

A pardon would officially recognize Sharpe’s innocence, make him eligible for up to $750,000 in restitution, and entitle him to have his DNA records and samples destroyed.

“The most important part is to get the word out and clear my family’s name. That’s the most important part,” Sharpe said. “All the other stuff is just trimmings.”

After camping outside Cooper’s office for the night, the president of the NAACP of North Carolina said a member of the governor’s counsel told him Sharpe will be pardoned.

“They said to me, that Dontae, that we can be rest assured that he’s going to be pardoned by the end of the year. But we are not satisfied with that. We want Dontae to be pardoned now,” NAACP of NC President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman.

CBS 17 asked the governor’s office if that was true. In a statement, his press secretary said: “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.”

Sharpe tells CBS17 he’s hopeful, but says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

“All I want and all we want that’s been exonerated is to get our life back. We’re innocent,” said Sharpe. “We shouldn’t have been there in the first place. So we’re not wrong for asking to get pardoned. That belongs to us.”

Until that happens, Sharpe and civil rights leaders are keeping the pressure on. Spearman is camping outside the governor’s office for the second night in a row. On Friday, the group will rally outside the Executive Mansion at 4:30 p.m.