RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper granted a pardon of innocence Friday for a North Carolina man who spent two dozen years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

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

“All of this is just preparation. Got to be prepared when you get your blessing from God. He knows how we are,” Sharpe said during a news conference via Zoom Friday afternoon.

“I have carefully reviewed Montoyae Dontae Sharpe’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” Cooper said in a Friday afternoon news release. “Mr. Sharpe and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

The pardon came after Sharpe’s application was thoroughly reviewed by the Office of Executive Clemency, the Office of the General Counsel and the Governor, the news release said.

“Pardon of actual innocence lifts a burden off my shoulders and off my family’s shoulders. It’s a blessing. I do want to thank Mr. Cooper for doing what was right,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe, who spent 24 years in prison, is now eligible to file a claim under North Carolina law, that allows compensation to persons wrongly convicted of felonies.

“It’s bittersweet. It should’ve been an immediate pardon with exoneration,” said Rev. Dr. William Barber II.

Friday, many of Sharpe’s supporters, including the North Carolina NAACP, Forward Justice, activists, and faith leaders gathered for the Freedom Friday vigil.

This was the eighth Freedom Friday vigil seeking pardons of innocence from Cooper for exonerated people.

“It’s a good day. A very good day,” said Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the NC NAACP.

“But it’s not such a good day for the state of North Carolina because there are still others. Until something happens to reckon with the system as it is right now it’s going to be much of the same,” Spearman later said.

The pardon recognizes Sharpe’s innocence and makes him eligible for up to $750,000 in restitution, and entitles him to have his DNA records and samples destroyed.

Since taking office in 2017, Cooper has now pardoned eight people.

CORRECTION: A previous story incorrectly reported how many years Sharpe was in prison.