RALEIGH -- Two brothers, one of whom spent three decades on death row, were pardoned Thursday in the 1983 rape and killing of a girl, clearing the way for them to receive $750,000 in compensation from the state.
Gov. Pat McCrory's pardons for Henry McCollum and his half brother Leon Brown happened after a judge vacated their convictions and ordered their release in September, citing new DNA evidence that points to another man killing and raping 11-year-old Sabrina Buie.
Defense attorneys say the brothers were scared teenagers who had low IQs when they were questioned by police and coerced into confessing. McCollum was then 19, and Brown was 15.
Current Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who didn't prosecute the men, has said he's considering whether to reopen the case and charge the other man, whose DNA was found on a cigarette butt recovered from the crime scene. The cigarette butt was recently tested as part of an investigation by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a one-of-its-kind investigative panel.
That man whose DNA was discovered is already serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that happened less than a month after Sabrina's killing.
Last fall, the judge and prosecutor acknowledged there was no physical evidence linking Brown and McCollum to the crime.
McCollum had been the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina's death row. Brown had been serving life in prison.
The brothers said earlier this year they have had a hard time adjusting to life as free men. When they left prison, officials gave each of them $45.
"I can't do nothing to help my family," McCollum told the Raleigh News & Observer in January. "They're not able to pay their bills."
McCollum and Brown have lived off the kindness of others, the newspaper reported. Lawyers at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham held a fundraiser the night they were exonerated. Others have donated money after reading about the case.
The compensation for the brothers still needs to be formally approved by a state agency, but it is considered a formality.
They did not attend the governor's announcement.
"I know there are differing opinions about this case and who is responsible. This has been a comprehensive and thoughtful process during the past nine months," McCrory said in a statement. "Based on the available evidence I've reviewed, I am granting pardons of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. It's the right thing to do."
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North Carolina brothers pardoned, including one on death row for 3 decades