Human RightsNorth America

Two US men declared innocent after 30 years in jail

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Two men convicted of murder in the United States and served 30 years behind bars have been freed after DNA evidence implicated another man.

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown had been in prison for 30 years in North Carolina since being convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl in 1983.

Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser ordered the immediate release of McCollum, 50, and Brown, 46.

The half brothers were convicted in the slaying of Sabrina Buie in Robeson County.

McCollum had been on death row for decades and his half brother Brown was serving a life sentence.

Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, has represented McCollum for 20 years.

“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,” Rose said.

“Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution. He would become so distraught he had to be put in isolation. It’s impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost.”

Their convictions were overturned after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt recovered at the crime scene implicated another man with a history of rape and murder.

The DNA shows that the real murderer was a 74-year-old man who is currently serving a life sentence for a different murder.

A co-counsel for Brown said the case provided one of the most dramatic examples of false and coerced confessions in the US justice system.

“We waited years and years,” said James McCollum, Henry’s father. “We kept the faith.”

A request for a review of the case was turned down by the United States Supreme Court in 1994.

It would take at least until Wednesday before the required paperwork is done and the men are freed, said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the state prison system.

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