By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor
Brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown spent 30 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
The two brothers were convicted at 19 and 15 and were sentenced to be executed. The two had been wrongfully convicted of a 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. At 16, Brown became the youngest individual to be on death row in North Carolina’s history. Both McCollum and Brown claimed for years their confessions at the time of the crime were coerced.
In 2014, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found that DNA testing verified a match to the next-door neighbor of the murder victim — the convictions of McCollum and Brown were on the road to being overturned. In September 2014, a judge ruled McCollum and Brown were, in fact, innocent.
Six years after their exonerations, a $75 million judgement has now been awarded to the two brothers. The May 14 ruling by a jury mandated that the two should be awarded $1 million each for every year in prison and an additional $13 million in punitive damages.
In 2018, the state of North Carolina only paid $750,000 to Henry McCollum to compensate him for the 30 years that he, an innocent man, spent on death row. The jury compensated them further.
“The first jury to hear all of the evidence — including the wrongly suppressed evidence — found Henry and Leon to be innocent, found them to have been demonstrably and excruciatingly wronged, and has done what the law can do to make it right at this late date,” North Carolina attorney Elliot Abrams said after the trial ended.
The settlement ends the decades-long wait for justice to be fully served for the two,” Abrams added. “A jury has finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter of their lives. They look forward to a brighter future surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones.”
Wrongful convictions in the U.S. justice system are not new. The national Innocence Project has had 235 exonerations since their founding in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke