Innocent mentally impaired brothers freed after 30 years in US prison

Wednesday 03 September 2014 16.22
Leon Brown (L) and Henry Lee McCollum were freed after 30 years (pic: North Carolina Department of Public Safety)
Leon Brown (L) and Henry Lee McCollum were freed after 30 years (pic: North Carolina Department of Public Safety)

Two mentally impaired half-brothers have been freed after serving three decades in a United States prison for the rape and murder of a child that they did not commit.

A judge in Robeson County said that Henry Lee McCollum, 50, North Carolina's longest-serving death-row inmate, and Leon Brown, 46, were innocent of the 1983 rape and killing of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie after new DNA evidence came to light.

Both are severely intellectually disabled and were teenagers at the time of their arrests in 1983.

Following false confessions, Mr McCollum was given a death sentence and Mr Brown was serving life for the rape.

"This case highlights in a most dramatic manner the importance of finding the truth," said Ann Kirby, attorney for Mr Brown.

"Today, truth has prevailed, but it comes 30 years too late for Sabrina Buie and her family, and for Leon, Henry, and their families.

"Their sadness, grief, and loss will remain with them forever."

North Carolina state law now requires homicide interrogations to be recorded or videotaped, but at the time the brothers were convicted such laws were not in effect.

There were no recordings of the confessions, which contained details that authorities now acknowledge were factually impossible.