LUMBERTON, N.C. (WNCN/CBS/AP) — According to the Associated Press and newspaper The Robesonian, two North Carolina men who were wrongfully convicted in a rape and murder of an 11-year-old were awarded $75 million total in compensatory damages Friday.
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who each spent 31 years in jail for a crime they did not commit, were each awarded $1 million for every year spent in prison plus $13 million in punitive damages.
McCollum and Brown are half-brothers, who had low IQs when they were questioned by police about the incident. McCollum was 19 and Brown was 15. McCollum was sentenced to death, becoming the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina’s death row. Brown was sentenced to life in prison.
More than three decades after they were convicted of the rape and death of Sabrina Buie in 1983, new DNA evidence showed another man was responsible.
The two were coerced into confessing to Buie’s rape and murder, their defense attorneys said in 2015, when a judge vacated their convictions and they were released from prison.
Governor Pat McCrory granted them pardons and they were each awarded $750,000 for the time they spent behind bars.
“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,” Raleigh attorney Elliot Abrams said after the trial.
Abrams was part of the brothers’ legal team, which issued a statement saying the decades-long wait “for recognition of the grave injustice” inflicted on the two by law enforcement was over. It added that “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.”
McCollum and Brown have pursued the civil case against law enforcement members since 2015, arguing that their civil rights were violated during the interrogations that led to their convictions.
The two were released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence that pointed to a convicted murderer exonerated them. They were teenagers when they were accused of the crime, which happened in Red Springs in Robeson County.
Attorneys for the men have said they 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. Both were convicted and sentenced to death.
On Friday, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, one of the defendants, settled its part of the case for $9 million. The town of Red Springs, originally named in the civil suit, settled in 2017 for $1 million.
Friday’s judgment came against former SBI agents Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead, who were part of the original investigation.
“I’ve got my freedom,” McCollum said. “There’s still a lot of innocent people in prison today. And they don’t deserve to be there.”