September 06, 2014
The emergence of new information proved to be a game changer in the state of North Carolina—more than 30 years after being sentenced to death, Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown emerged from prison as free men on Wednesday.
DNA evidence uncovered by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission exonerated McCollum and Brown of the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buie, in Red Springs, North Carolina.
A positive DNA match connects a man named Roscoe Artis to the crime—Artis had a history of sexual assault dating back to 1957, and is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a young woman who was killed less than a month after Sabrine Buie died.
McCollum and Brown were just 19- and 15-years-old, respectively, at the time of their conviction, and both men are mentally disabled. After being interrogated by police for several hours, both Brown and McCollum signed confessions that had been written for them by detectives of Red Springs Police Department.
While Brown's conviction was eventually changed to life in prison, Henry McCollum's death sentence was upheld, making him the longest serving inmate on death row in the state. In Raleigh's Central Prison, 152 men remain on death row.
The attorney for Leon Brown, James Payne, says the innocence of both men is only further proof that the death penalty may need some rethinking.