Henry McCollum holds a framed copy of his pardon before a hearing on compensation by the state for his wrongful conviction on Sept. 2, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. McCollum was the state’s longest serving death row inmate when he was released in 2014 after three decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted in a girl’s death. (AP Photo/Jonathan Drew)
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Two North Carolina brothers were each awarded $750,000 on Wednesday, three decades after they were wrongfully convicted in the killing an 11-year-old girl.
Henry McCollum, 51, appeared calm when the North Carolina Industrial Commission formally awarded him and his half-brother Leon Brown, 47, the money during a compensation hearing. Brown is in the hospital and did not attend.
McCollum and Brown were released in September 2014 after a judge vacated their convictions, citing new DNA evidence that points to another man in the killing and raping of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983.
McCollum had been the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina’s death row. Brown had been sentenced to life in prison.
Pardons in June from the governor qualified each of the brothers to receive $50,000 from the state for every year they were imprisoned, with a limit of $750,000.
The funds will be available after a period of 15 days, deputy commissioner J. Brad Donovan said.
In the months since their release, both men have had trouble adjusting to the outside world after spending most of their adult lives in prison. Money has been a problem, but McCollum told The Associated Press in June that the most important part of the pardon was having his name cleared.
The case began in September 1983, when Buie’s body was found in a soybean field in rural Robeson County. Items found nearby included cigarette butts, a beer can and two bloody sticks.
Defense attorneys have said the brothers were scared teenagers who had low IQs when they were questioned by police and coerced into confessing. McCollum was then 19, and Brown was 15.
The DNA from the cigarette butts doesn’t match Brown or McCollum, and fingerprints taken from the beer can weren’t theirs either. No physical evidence connects them to the crime, a judge and prosecutor acknowledged in late 2014.
Based largely on their confessions, both were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. Upon retrial, McCollum was again sent to death row, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.