By September 3, 2014 0 Comments Read More →

Free at Last! Wrongful Murder Conviction Overturned 30-Years Later

Henry McCollum

Henry McCollum and his half brother Leon Brown were wrongly convicted of murder 30-years ago

Thirty years ago, two men were wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year old girl in rural Lumberton, North Carolina. Finally, they are free.

Tuesday, a judge ordered the release of half-brothers Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46. The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man who lived a block from the location where the victim’s body was found.

Police coerced confessions from the two mentally disabled men, teenagers at the time, and this became the primary evidence used to convict them.

It is unclear why police focused on the two men. The physical evidence was always non-existent and Roscoe Artis, the man now suspected of committing the crimes, confessed to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time.

This case provides one of the most striking examples of the damage police can cause when they coerce confessions. It also shows the power of DNA evidence to exonerate the innocent.

At the time of the ruling, McCollum was waiting execution on death row and Brown was serving a life sentence.

When the judge announced his decision, the courtroom erupted into a standing ovation.

“We waited all these long years for this,” said James McCollum, the father of the man released from death row. “Thank you, Jesus.”

The exoneration ends decades of legal and political battles over a case that received nationwide attention and became infamous in North Carolina, vividly reflecting the country’s fractured perspectives of the death penalty.

In 1994, when the Supreme Court declined to review the case, Justice Antonin Scalia described Mr. McCollum’s offense as so heinous it would be hard to argue against the death penalty. But, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Henry Blackmun argued that McCollum’s mental age of 9 made the death penalty unconstitutional.

No physical evidence connected McCollum or Brown to the crime. However a local adolescent cast suspicion on McCollum who had recently moved to the area.

After five hours of questioning without an attorney present and with his mother weeping in the hall, not allowed to see him, McCollum confessed to the crime saying that he and three other boys killed the girl.

After he signed a statement written by investigators, he asked, “Can I go home now?”

Later that night Brown also confessed after being told that McCollum had confessed and that he could get the death penalty if he did not cooperate.

Both men afterwards recanted saying their confessions were coerced. The other two men mentioned in Mr. McCollum’s confession were never prosecuted.

In recent years, attorneys at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, working with private law firms, began pressing for DNA testing of the physical evidence in the case, which included a cigarette butt discovered near sticks found at the homicide.

Recent DNA testing by a completely independent state agency found a match for the DNA on the cigarette butt to Roscoe Artis, who lived only a block from where the body was found and who had a history of convictions for sexual assault.

Only weeks following the homicide, Mr. Artis admitted to the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman. Officials never explained why, despite the extraordinary similarities, they kept their focus on McCollum and Brown.

Joe Freeman Britt, the original prosecutor said last week he still believed the men were guilty.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.