Two half-brothers wrongly incarcerated for 30 years have been released and have had their convictions overturned after fresh DNA evidence vindicated them.
Henry Lee McCollum, 50, who was on death row, and Leon Brown, 46, serving life, were arrested as teenagers in 1983 for the rape and murder of 11-year-old girl Sabrina Buie.
The innocent North Caroliners, who are diagnosed with mental disabilities, were released after new evidence linked the killing to another man who lived just feet from the soybean field that the girl’s body was found in and who was around the same time imprisoned himself for raping and killing an 18-year-old woman.
As the decision was announced by Superior Court Judge Douglas B Sasser yesterday, the men’s family erupted into applause and tears.
According to the New York Times, the brothers, who were 19 [McCollum] and 15 [Brown] at the time, had no physical evidence linking them to the crime.
However, Mr McCollum was considered suspicious by some in the town after recently moving there from New Jersey, and after five hours of questioning without a lawyer present he gave a story of how he and three others had killed the girl.
“I had never been under this much pressure, with a person hollering at me and threatening me,” Mr McCollum told The News & Observer in an interview.
“I just made up a story and gave it to them so they would let me go home.”
He wasn’t allowed home, however, and was allegedly coerced into signing a confession – there is no recording of the interrogation.
During his incarceration, Mr McCollum was held up as an example of someone who 'deserved to die'.
In 1994, a Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was arguing for the death penalty in an unrelated case when he referred to that of Mr McCollum's, and said that a quiet lethal injection would be "enviable" than that inflicted on the murdered young girl, reports Huffington Post.
“This case highlights in a most dramatic manner the importance of finding the truth,” Ann Kirby, Mr Brown’s attorney, said, reports AFP.
“Today, truth has prevailed, but it comes 30 years too late for Sabrina Buie and her family, and for Leon, Henry, and their families.
“Their sadness, grief, and loss will remain with them forever.”
Mr McCollum was North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate and in later years, changes were made to the justice system to prevent minors and those with mental disabilities from being given the death sentence.
According to the Guardian, the police force in Red Springs is also accused of hiding crucial bits of crime scene evidence from 1984 until last month, that had not even been revealed to the defence teams or prosecutors.