Black Intellectually Disabled Brothers Awarded $75 Million For Wrongful Conviction
Photo Credit: Screengrab via Raleigh News & Observer
Half brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown have been awarded $75 million after spending over 30 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
In a report from the New York Times, a jury in a federal civil rights case in North Carolina awarded the brothers “$31 million in compensatory damages — $1 million for each year they spent wrongfully imprisoned,” along with $13 million in punitive damages. The brothers were wrongfully convicted of the murder and rape of an 11-year-old girl named Sabrina Buie in 1983, with the jury determining that McCollum and Brown’s constitutional rights had been violated by two former state investigators who coerced them into confessing to the crime. Both former investigators Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead had violated McCollum’s rights, while Snead had violated Brown’s rights.
McCollum and Brown had found themselves at the center of Buie’s death after a white schoolgirl told police that the half brothers were responsible for her death. Although she later recanted her statement, this led to McCollum being interrogated first, with the investigators calling the then-19-year-old (the Times noted that McCollum had the mental capacity of a 9-year-old at the time) racial slurs, and telling him he would be sent to the gas chamber he didn’t admit to the crime. Brown was interrogated second after McCollum’s mom went to the police station with Brown asking about her son’s whereabouts.
The half brothers were then sentenced to be executed; after the State Supreme Court ordered separate retrials, McCollum was sent to death row while Brown was sentenced to life in prison. In 2014, they were finally released after DNA testing of a cigarette butt found at the crime scene matched that of Roscoe Artis’ DNA. Artis’ house was closest to where Buie’s body was found, but neither investigators from the State Bureau of Investigation nor the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office ran a background check on him. The two were pardoned the following year.
The money that the half brothers were awarded will be controlled by court-appointed guardians.