Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two North Carolina men were declared innocent and ordered freed on Tuesday after more than 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl that recent DNA tests linked to another man.
Mentally disabled half brothers McCollum, 50, and Brown, 46, were teenagers when they were convicted in 1984 of raping and killing Sabrina Buie in North Carolina.
DNA evidence recently analysed from the crime scene implicated another man, Roscoe Artis, 74, who lived close to where the victim’s body was found. He is also in prison for a similar crime.
The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission carried out an investigation which tested DNA evidence found at the scene. The commission found the DNA materials not traceable to McCollum or Brown.
“This case is a tragedy which has profoundly affected not only the lives of the people involved, but which profoundly affects our system of justice in North Carolina,” said Ann Kirby, lawyer for Brown.
The half naked body of Sabrina Buie was found in 1983 near the town of Red Springs, North Carolina.
Police picked up McCollum and Brown, who were 19 and 15 respectively at that time, a few weeks later without any physical evidence connecting them to the crime.
McCollum confessed after five hours of intense questioning, with no lawyer or family member present.
His younger brother also signed a confession written by the police.
The two later retracted their confessions in court, saying they were made under duress. But the brothers were found guilty and given death sentences.
Brown’s sentence was later reduced to life in prison and his charge reduced to rape, but McCollum remained on death row for three decades.
In the years since their false confessions, McCollum and Brown maintained their innocence and made a number of appeals.
In 2010 the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission took up their case and uncovered evidence the men’s legal team had not obtained.
Although he was not a suspect in the original case, Artis was found guilty for the rape and murder of another girl in similar circumstances less than a month after Sabrina Buie’s killing.
After Tuesday’s release of McCollum and Brown, their lawyers thanked those who had worked to correct wrongs that occurred under the previous prosecutions.
“It’s terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for 30 years,” said Ken Rose, lawyer for McCollum.
“It’s impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost,” Rose added.Follow Us on Social Media