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2 NC men's convictions overturned in 1983 killing


LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina judge overturned the convictions Tuesday of two men who have served 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl after another man's DNA was recently discovered on evidence in the case.

Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser ordered the immediate release of Henry McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46. The half brothers were convicted in the 1983 slaying of Sabrina Buie in Robeson County.

Lawyers for the men petitioned for their release after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt recovered at the crime scene pointed to another man. That man, who lived close to the soybean field where the dead girl's body was found, is already serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that happened less than a month later.

Family members for the men gasped and some sobbed as the judge announced his decision to the packed courtroom. Brown smiled and shook a defense lawyer's hand and McCollum looked spent and relieved

"We waited years and years," said James McCollum, Henry's father. "We kept the faith."

It was not immediately clear how soon the men will walk free. Procedure requires that they return to the prisons where they have been serving time before they can be processed out.

McCollum has been housed for decades on North Carolina's death row at Central Prison in Raleigh. Brown is assigned to Maury Correctional Institution, a high security prison in Greene County.

Keith Acree, spokesman for the state prison system, said it would likely be at least Wednesday before the required paperwork is in order and the men are released.

Sasser ruled after a day-long evidence hearing during which Sharon Stellato, the associate director North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, testified about three interviews she had over the summer with the 74-year-old inmate now suspected of killing Buie. The Associated Press does not generally disclose the names of criminal suspects unless they are charged.

According to Stellato, the inmate said at first he didn't know Buie. But in later interviews, the man said the girl would come to his house and buy cigarettes for him, Stellato said.

The man also told them he saw the girl the night she went missing and gave her a coat and hat because it was raining, Stellato said. He told the commission that's why his DNA may have been at the scene.

Stellato also said the man repeatedly told her McCollum and Brown are innocent.

Still, he denied involvement in the killing, Stellato said. He told the commission that the girl was alive when she left his house and that he didn't see her again. He told the commission that he didn't leave the house because it was raining and he had to work the next day.

Stellato said weather records show it didn't rain the night Buie went missing or the next day.

Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt acknowledged the DNA discovery in court papers. He said evidence from the original trial is being tested again and he hasn't decided whether he retry McCollum and Brown.

Buie was found in a rural soybean field, naked except for a bra pushed up against her neck. A short distance away, police found two bloody sticks and a cigarette butt.

Authorities said McCollum, who was 19 at the time, and Brown, who was 15, confessed to killing Buie.

Attorneys said both men have low IQs and their confessions were coerced after hours of questioning. There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.

Both were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, where he remains, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

The DNA from the cigarette butts doesn't match either of them, and fingerprints taken from a beer can at the scene aren't theirs either. The other man now suspected in Buie's killing was convicted of assaulting three other women over 30 years before his last conviction.

Lawyers for the two men said the new testing leaves no doubt about their clients' innocence.

Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, has represented Henry McCollum for 20 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. "Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution. He would become so distraught he had to be put in isolation. It's impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost."

Join the discussion

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calpharmdoc September 02 2014 at 6:52 PM

Predominantly white police and lawyers convicting two poor black men of murder. And, once again in the legal history of the past 50 years, the whites were wrong. Prejudice among police is rife. For a black person to get a fair trial in the South is rare. (I am white.)

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13 replies
Julie September 02 2014 at 8:34 PM

These poor men should be handed million$ of dollar$ and led out of the court room, straight to a big old limousine and brought to freaking Disney World if they want to, IMMEDIATELY! WHY do they have to go back to prison to be "processed" for another minute, let alone DAYS?!? UNFREAKINGBELIEVABLE!

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5 replies
pat September 02 2014 at 6:54 PM

these guys should get millions and millions of dollars should be wrongfully convicted The justice system in this country is a JOKE

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12 replies
Robert Mccallum September 02 2014 at 8:03 PM

why is it every time I see this, it's a black man, wrongfully put in prison. Have theses police no conscience? Don't they want to make sure it's the RIGHT person that going to jail? It makes me sick. This poor mans entire life is wasted. they ought to put the cop and prosecutor in prison

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8 replies
GGOLDS5 September 02 2014 at 8:13 PM

I can't quite figure out why the JUDGES that convict these innocent people over and over and over again don't get some repercussions. I think if the judges, (just like DOCTORS ) who screw up, new they would have to pay for these horrifying screw ups this wouldn't happen so often. Think of it. The judge ultimately decides their fate. So many innocent men over the years and the damn judges get off with nothing but big fat paychecks. Create some kind of post innocent conviction fee or jail time and a lot more would be and would have been expected to prove guilt then simply slamming down an ugly hammer.

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12 replies
Karine September 02 2014 at 7:28 PM

Just look at that fat white cop behind him..

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4 replies
Joanne September 02 2014 at 10:00 PM

I'd always been pro-execute. NOT anymore! I believe in Life in prison now, just because of cases like these 2 poor men!! 30 years of their lives LOST & accused of a heinous crime they didnt commit!?! Only 20 & 16 when sentenced....makes me want to cry!! I'm VERY glad they're alive!!

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2 replies
MoeLarryAndJesus Joanne September 03 2014 at 1:31 AM

No thanks to you and your "pro-execute friends. I'm glad you changed your mind, finally, but how many a-hole "pro-executes" did you vote for before you saw the light?

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1 reply
Valerie MoeLarryAndJesus September 03 2014 at 11:31 AM

And how many have you let live so they can commit more crimes? Give it a rest!

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slackwarerobert Joanne September 03 2014 at 5:29 PM

so how many are you going to set free to commit MORE crimes because you are taking up room keeping scum alive. stop trying capital cases. just try the case.
It doesn't matter what the punishment is, you are supposed to be proving they committed the crime.
NO innocent person has been executed. without that conviction you can't fry them.
30 of your "innocent" angles just escaped from a Tennessee jail. not one has escaped from the grim reaper.

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bigshadyobama September 02 2014 at 11:36 PM


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3 replies
bigshadyobama September 02 2014 at 11:28 PM


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4 replies
ka5qfikeith September 03 2014 at 12:18 AM

It is easy why they were convicted. Two disable Young Black men in the south!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
slackwarerobert ka5qfikeith September 03 2014 at 5:30 PM

saying they DID it.
what is the jury supposed to think. all blacks lie? that is BIGOTED.

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