Justice has finally been served for two North Carolina half-brothers who spent decades in prison for a crime they didn’t commit!
According to reports, a federal jury has awarded $75 million to Leon Brown (above, left) and Henry McCollum (above, right), who were arrested in 1983 and spent almost 31 years behind bars after they were convicted of rape and murder, before they were exonerated in 2014.
The award is a pretty big deal because not everyone who is exonerated in the US is guaranteed compensation: although the federal government and 35 states have some kind of restitution laws, advocates say many of them fail to appropriately compensate people.
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After they were exonerated, Brown and McCollum chose to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the government agencies responsible for their wrongful convictions. This process is done by many exonerees across the country; advocates say it usually takes years and is tough to win.
But it paid off greatly for the half-brothers. Nearly six years after they filed the suit in federal court, a jury awarded them $31 million each in compensatory damages: $1 million for each year they were incarcerated. That’s not all: they’ll also get an extra $13 million total in punitive damages.
But how were Drown and McCollum imprisoned in the first place?
Well, according to CNN, they were arrested and charged in 1983 with the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in Red Springs, NC. Initially, both men were sentenced to death, but Brown’s sentence was later reduced to life in prison. In 2014, however, DNA from a cigarette collected at the crime scene was tested and ultimately tied another person to the crime, causing both men to be exonerated and released from prison.
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The pair filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2015 against local officials who were involved in the original case. At the civil trial, attorneys had to prove the brothers had been wrongfully convicted — which they did by arguing that Brown and McCollum had been coerced to give false confessions.
Attorneys also presented evidence showing that investigators withheld information in Brown and McCollum’s original trial, including how the interrogations were conducted and the existence of another suspect. Lawyer Elliot Abrams told the outlet:
“There was a heinous rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl and the government said these two people did it and confessed to it. There was nothing to counter that. We now know they covered it up intentionally.”
Abrams said McCollum, who was 19 at the time, had a low IQ comparable to that of a 9-year-old boy. He also noted in the suit that there were inconsistencies when comparing statements made to police with details of the crime scene and the autopsy.
We’re happy to hear these two men will be compensated for the years of freedom they missed out on. But we should note: exonerees’ attorneys are rarely able to prove misconduct in court, which means most exonerees aren’t properly compensated.
Clearly, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in the criminal justice system. (Let’s get the ball rolling, Kim Kardashian!)
[Image via CBS News Footage]