Wrongly convicted brothers could get $750,000 payout

Judge vacated convictions in 2014

By Jonathan Drew
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Two North Carolina brothers could each receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state, three decades after wrongful convictions in the killing an 11-year-old girl landed one on death row and the other in prison for a life sentence.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission will hear from a lawyer for Henry McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown during a compensation hearing Wednesday, and the attorney general's office may also speak.

Pardons in June from the governor qualify each of the brothers to receive $50,000 from the state for every year they were imprisoned, with a limit of $750,000. Approval of the compensation is largely considered a formality, but it could take weeks for the state treasury to issue a check.

An attorney for the men, Patrick Megaro, said McCollum plans to attend the hearing along with his sister, but Brown is hospitalized for mental health issues exacerbated by his time in prison. Megaro said he's not sure how long after an approval it could take for the state to issue the payment.

McCollum, now 51, had been the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina's death row.

McCollum and the 47-year-old 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.

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.

Published: Thu, Sep 03, 2015