RALEIGH — Two half-brothers wrongly convicted in the killing of an 11-year-old Red Springs girl will each receive $750,000 for the more than three decades they spent in prison.
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown had already been pardoned by Gov. Pat McCrory, opening the door for them to be compensated for their wrongful imprisonment. The North Carolina Industrial Commission announced during a compensation hearing today that it would be awarding McCollum and Brown the full amount they are entitled to under state law.
“This was only made possible because Governor Pat McCrory conducted a thorough review of the case and correctly determined that both men should receive pardons of innocence,” Appeals Law Group, which is representing the men, said in a statement.
McCollum told The Associated Press that he intended to use the money to support himself and his family.
“My family, they have struggled for years and years,” he told the news service. “It’s hard out there for them, and I want to help them.”
The law group also announced it filed a civil rights lawsuits in federal court on Monday against Robeson County, the town of Red Springs, and “the law enforcement officers who grossly abused their authority, deliberately violated Henry and Leon’s civil rights, took advantage of two mentally-disabled teenagers, and caused them to be convicted and sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.”
Among the other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Robeson County Sheriff Kenneth Sealey, SBI agents Kenneth Snead and Leroy Allen and former sheriff’s Detective Garth Locklear.
“We trust that the federal court will administer justice to Henry and Leon and justly compensate them for 30 years, 11 months, and seven days on death row for crimes of which they are actually innocent,” the Appeals Law Group said.
In North Carolina, those who have been wrongfully imprisoned and obtain a pardon of innocence from the governor can receive $50,000 for every year they were imprisoned up to the $750,000 cap. The North Carolina Industrial Commission may also pay for job skills training for one year for those who have been wrongly imprisoned and help with tuition at any North Carolina community college or school in the University of North Carolina system.
According to the Associated Press, McCollum was present at Wednesday’s hearing but Brown could not attend because he is in the hospital with health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
McCollum and Brown were convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 for raping and killing Sabrina Buie, whose body was found in a soybean field in Red Springs. During a retrial, the murder charge against Brown was dropped and he was re-sentenced to life in prison. McCollum, 51, had been North Carolina’s longest serving death row inmate when the remaining convictions against the brothers were overturned by a judge and they were freed from prison last September.
Lawyers representing the men argued there had been no evidence tying them to the crime and that confessions they gave to law enforcement had been coerced. During an evidentiary hearing that ultimately led to the pair’s freedom, new DNA evidence implicating another man was presented. Roscoe Artis, who lived near the field where Buie’s body was found, is in prison for a similar crime in Red Springs committed about one month after Buie’s murder.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.