A jury in North Carolina has awarded $75 million to two Black men with intellectual disabilities who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983.
Half brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were awarded the money after an eight-person jury took five hours to deliberate. It equals $31 million each or $1 million for every year they spent in prison. The jury also awarded the brothers $6.5 million each in punitive damages after the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office struck a settlement in the civil suit.
McCollum said, “I thank God,” outside the courtroom after decision on Friday, according to the News and Observer.
This is believed to be the largest wrongful conviction settlement in North Carolina history.
“For more than 37 years, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown have waited for recognition of the grave injustice that law enforcement inflicted upon them,” the attorneys representing the two brothers said, according to the Observer. “Today, a jury did just that, and have finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter in their lives.”
According to court documents, former North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agents, Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead, were both part of the original 1983 investigation in Red Springs, North Carolina that resulted in the wrongful conviction of McCollum and Brown.
Both men were teenagers at the time when they signed confessions they say they did not understand, the lawyers for McCollum and Brown determined. They are said to be intellectually disabled, according to News and Observer, who reported their I.Q.’s were tested in the mid-50’s.
Those confessions were allegedly coerced by law enforcement officers who fabricated evidence to match McCollum and Brown as co-conspirators in the crime.
They were both sentenced to death by the state in 1984. This was after the first trial without an initial appeal. McCollum ended up becoming North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate without being executed. A total of 31 years he spent fearing for his life behind bars, according to state records.
In 2014, the brothers were both released from prison after DNA evidence found convicted murderer Roscoe Artis was responsible for the heinous rape and murder of Buie.
According to court documents, the preteen was suffocating by Artis after having her own underwear shoved down her throat. At the time, he lived a few hundred yards from where the girl’s body was found, and went on to commit a similar rape and murder weeks after Buie’s killing.
Both McCollum and Brown received full pardons by then-Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015.