Gov. Pat McCrory said he was pleased by recent headlines about the exonerations of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who were freed this week after almost 31 years in prison.
"Yesterday, I was heartened to see the convictions of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown vacated by the court," McCrory said in a statement released Thursday. "My office has a process in place to review applications for pardons of innocence. If they apply, we will begin reviewing their applications as soon as they are received."
On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Doug Sasser declared McCollum and Brown innocent and ordered them freed. The brothers were convicted of the 1983 rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie and were sentenced to death. Brown was later received a life sentence and moved from death row to a regular prison.
McCollum and Brown both signed confessions saying they and two other teenagers gangraped Buie and killed her by stuffing her panties down her throat with a stick.
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The brothers disavowed the confessions, saying their were tricked or coerced.
In July, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission found DNA evidence tying the killing to Roscoe Artis, a sexual predator with a long history of attacking women, including a similar rape and strangulation of a young Red Springs woman one month after the arrest of Brown and McCollum.
Lawyers for the two men were heartened by McCrory's announcement.
"That's awesome," said Vernetta Alston, attorney for Henry McCollum. Alston said she has begun the pardon application.
"We're thrilled the governor has sentiments that echo what the district attorney said and the court found, that these fellows are innocent," said James Payne, a laywer for Leon Brown.