Two mentally handicapped brothers from North Carolina are celebrating with their family today their release from death row, after having sat there for three decades for a murder they didn’t commit.
Henry McCollum, 50, and his half-brother Leon Brown, 46, were acquitted of the charges against them after another man’s DNA was found on a cigarette butt left near the body of a young girl the brothers had been accused of killing.
The ruling by a judge Tuesday is the latest twist in an already controversial case that started with the defense alleging that the brothers were only convicted due to coerced confessions extracted from them at the time when they were aged just 19 and 15.
AP reported yesterday that Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser said the new DNA results contradicted the case prosecutors put forward at the men’s trials and called for their immediate release saying: “based on significant new evidence that they are, in fact, innocent.”
After the court hearing James McCollum, Henry’s father, told reporters: “We waited years and years. We kept the faith.”
The brother’s attorneys petitioned for their release from death row recently after the cigarette butt found proved their innocence, connecting the murder of the girl to another man who is already serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of another girl a month later.
Time reported the attorneys were already confident going into the courtroom as they knew that the new DNA evidence totally absolved their clients of any guilt in the 1983 murder.
Leon Brown’s attorney, James Payne, told reporters: “We were very hopeful that it would come out this way. We knew the strength of it.”
While Ken Rose, who represented McCollum for the past 20 years, noted that it’s shocking that two mentally handicapped brothers were convicted of a crime they didn’t commit and put on death row for over 30 years:
“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,” Rose said.