Three decades after two half brothers were convicted of the rape and murder of a young girl in North Carolina, they were declared innocent and ordered released from prison on Tuesday based on DNA evidence that implicated another man.
New York Times
reported that mentally disabled half-brothers Henry Lee McCollum, 50, who has spent 30 years on death row, and Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, were convicted based on coerced confessions.
When Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser vacated the convictions and ordered the pair’s release, the courtroom erupted into a standing ovation.
“We waited all these long years for this,” said James McCollum, the father of the man released from death row. “Thank you, Jesus,” he repeated, according to the
McCollum was 19 and Brown was 15 when they were picked up by Red Springs’ police who were investigating the murder of Sabrina Buie, 11, who had been raped and suffocated and left for dead in a field. While there was no physical evidence connecting either McCollum or Brown to the crime scene, a local teenager cast suspicion on McCollum and considered him an outsider since he had just moved with his brother from New Jersey to the southern part of North Carolina.
In an attempt to please the officers interrogating him, and with the hopes of being sent home, McCollum told a story of how he and three other youths had attacked and killed the girl. He had been questioned for five hours without a lawyer present. His mother was crying in the hallway.
After McCollum signed a statement, Brown was informed that his brother confessed. McCollum was threatened with execution if he didn’t cooperate. He, too, signed a confession, but at trial the brothers recanted and said their confessions had been coerced.
North Carolina’s Center for Death Penalty Litigation took up the case and worked with private law firms in an effort to get DNA testing of the physical evidence in the case, including a cigarette butt found near weapons used in the murder. Recent DNA testing on the cigarette butt excluded McCollum and Brown and matched to Roscoe Artis, who lived only a block away from the crime scene and had previous convictions for sexual assault.
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