After spending over 30 years behind bars, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown— two African-American half brothers who faced the death penalty and life in prison respectively — were set free on Wednesday after a DNA test proved that the men had no connection to the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl for which they were accused, charged and convicted.
Attorneys for Brown and McCollum, who were 15 and 19 at the time of the arrest, said that the police department of Red Springs, North Carolina had coerced the then-teenagers, who are both diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, into signing false confessions after hours of interrogations.
“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,” said Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, who has represented McCollum for 20 years. “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.”
“It’s impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost.”
—Ken Rose, attorney for Henry McCollum
The Robeson County Superior Court judge dismissed all charges on Tuesday after a morning hearing during which the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, an independent state agency, presented the results of its investigation, including DNA testing of items found at the crime scene.
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