Recently Exonerated Brothers Live in Dire Straits as North Carolina Lags to Review Pardon Application


For Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the future looked promising last September when both men were exonerated of the 1984 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in North Carolina. But that promise has faded as the two half-brothers—both said to be mentally challenged—face unemployment, health ailments and a cold shoulder from the state of North Carolina. writes that life outside of prison has allowed few privileges for McCollum, 50, and Brown, 47. Both men were exonerated four months ago by North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission based on DNA evidence that implicated another man. The brothers spent 31 years of their lives incarcerated—McCollum on death row—for convictions based on coerced confessions. On the day they were released, they were each given a meager $49 by prison officials. 

Geraldine Brown, their sister, said to, “They dropped them out here like they were bums… . [l]ike they were trash at a landfill.” 

Though Governor Pat McCrory said in early September that he was looking forward to reviewing McCollum’s and Brown’s joint pardon application, the brothers have yet to hear further information from the governor’s office.

Until McCollum or Brown receive an official pardon from the head of the state, neither can receive the compensation to which they are hopefully eligible. According to, in North Carolina, wrongfully convicted people are eligible for up to $50,000 for each year spent behind bars, with a cap at $750,000. 

In the meantime, the brothers have no income. They are not capable of securing jobs until their records are expunged. They live with their sister, who moved from Jersey City to North Carolina to assist her brothers. 

McCollum told the news site, “I can’t do nothing to help my family… .They’re not able to pay their bills.” 

In addition, there has been trouble gaining access to meet other basic needs, such as getting a prescription filled to treat McCollum’s diabetes. 

The far from ideal re-entry into freedom has not helped either Brown or McCollum to acclimate to their new lives. Brown is said to be withdrawn and will likely need to take antipsychotic and antidepressant medications to function. McCollum is described as being uncomfortable in crowds and misses his friends on death row. But, he says that he is thankful for his freedom.

McCollum told that he dreams of having a family of his own, but that more than anything he wants to be pardoned so that he can get a job and collect his compensation. 

“I just want to enjoy my years on Earth,” he said, according to “I’m not young anymore.”


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