7 Jun 2015

Two half brothers will receive more than $1 million from the State of North Carolina after they were wrongfully imprisoned for three decades in the killing of an 11-year-old girl.


 Two half brothers will receive more than $1 million from the State of North Carolina after they were wrongfully imprisoned for three decades in the killing of an 11-year-old girl. But for one of them, the windfall is not the issue.

“It ain’t about money,” said Henry Lee McCollum, 51, who, along with his 47-year-old half brother, Leon Brown, was pardoned by Gov. Pat McCrory. “It was about just being able to see that I was innocent of a crime I was charged with. It was just a blessing to be out here, to live a normal life.”

The pardons qualify each man for $50,000 from the state for every year they were imprisoned, with a limit of $750,000 each. The compensation still needs to be approved by a state agency, but that is considered a formality. It is not clear exactly when they could get the money.

Mr. McCrory’s office announced on Friday that he had signed the pardons. Both men were released from prison in September after they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Defense lawyers have said the half brothers were scared teenagers who had low IQs when they were questioned by the police and coerced into confessing. Mr. McCollum was then 19, and Mr. Brown was 15.

Based largely on their confessions, both were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. Upon retrial, Mr. McCollum was again sent to death row; Mr. Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

Their path to freedom began in September after a judge vacated their convictions and ordered their release, citing new DNA evidence that pointed to another man in the rape and killing of the 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buie, in 1983.

That inmate is serving a life sentence for a similar rape and killing that happened less than a month after Sabrina’s death.

The current Robeson County district attorney, Johnson Britt, who was not the prosecutor in the case, has said he is considering whether to reopen it and charge the other man.

The half brothers are still trying to come to terms with the changes that occurred while they were behind bars. When Mr. McCollum walked off death row, he needed help putting on the seatbelt in his father’s car. At the time, he had never owned a cellphone and was unaccustomed to the Internet. Each man was given $45 by prison officials when they were freed.

Mr. Brown learned of the pardons on Thursday night as he watched the news at his sister’s home in Fayetteville.

“I was upstairs in my room, because I wanted to be by myself when I hear,” he said. “Well, when he said it, right, tears start coming from my eyes. Tears of joy. And my sister, she ran upstairs. When she had hugged me, right, I had laid my head on her shoulder, crying. I couldn’t stop crying, you know? It felt — it felt good.”

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