U.S. News


2 Murder Convicts Exonerated 30 Years After False Confession

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were exonerated after DNA evidence linked another man to the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
Posted at 10:13 PM, Sep 02, 2014

A North Carolina judge exonerated two brothers Tuesday who spent more than 30 years behind bars for a horrific crime they didn't commit. 

WTVD: "Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were 15 and 19 when they signed written confessions to the murder and rape of this 11-year-old Red Springs girl, Sabrina Buie. ... At the time, the teenagers had the IQs of fourth graders."

Although there was no physical evidence tying them to the crime, the half-brothers — who are now 50 and 46 respectively — claim they were coerced by law enforcement into signing written confessions after hours of questioning without lawyers present.  

Here's McCollum speaking to The News & Observer this year about that confession:

"I had never been under this much pressure with a person hollering at me and threatening me and all that crazy stuff. ... I was trying to go home. I gave a false confession." 

According to local newspaper The Robesonian, the men were originally sentenced to die in 1984, but were retried in the early '90s. McCollum's sentencing stayed the same, while Brown was only found guilty of rape. He was re-sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. 

But things changed for the men after North Carolina groups dedicated to examining wrongful convictions got involved. 

WRAL: "The new ruling was based on new evidence discoverd by the North Carolina Innocence Commission. They found inconsistencies in the two men's confessions ... They also found DNA evidence linking convicted rapist and murderer Roscoe Artis to the murder and rape of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie." 

The Guardian goes into detail about the re-examined evidence found at the scene of Buie's murder. Among several items, a cigarette butt contained DNA linked to Artis — who lived close to where Buie's body was found. The DNA testing used more recently didn't exist when the men were first tried and convicted. 

According to The New York Times, the cases against McCollum and Brown "provided one of the most dramatic examples yet of the potential for false, coerced confessions and also of the power of DNA tests to exonerate the innocent."

According to local reporters, it'll be up to prosecutors whether to charge Artis, who is now 74 years old and is currently serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman in Red Springs. McCollum and Brown are expected to be released from prison Wednesday.