Two half brothers' request to be pardoned because they were exonerated of murder after spending three decades in prison is still actively under consideration, Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday.
A committee led by the governor's chief legal counsel, Bob Stephens, which includes law enforcement officials and others, is conducting a formal and thorough process that will lead to a recommendation to McCrory, he said.
If the committee recommends in favor of a pardon, McCrory said, then he will talk to the men, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, before reaching a final decision.
"I take this very seriously," McCrory said in an interview after an event in Wilson. "I've made a point to keep the politics out of that review process to let that team go at their pace without my interference."
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The men applied for a pardon of innocence almost five months ago, shortly after a Superior Court judge declared them innocent of rape and murder convictions. McCollum and Brown are intellectually disabled and live with their sister, who struggles to pay rent and utilities on her home in Fayetteville.
The Center for Death Penalty Litigation has established a fund to help them out. A pardon would qualify each man to receive $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned, up to a maximum of $750,000.
The governor used a similar process - over a six-month time frame - before issuing a pardon of innocence in 2013 for LaMonte Armstrong. Armstrong served nearly 17 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction.
The charges were eventually dropped after a seven-year investigation by Duke University's Wrongful Convictions Clinic, when a judge agreed with defense attorneys and prosecutors that new evidence indicated someone else had committed the crime. But the state had never officially declared Armstrong innocent until he received the pardon.
McCrory said Friday that after a committee reviewed Armstrong's case, the governor met with Armstrong and his attorneys for more than an hour. He said he followed up with a phone call to Armstrong before making up his mind, and then personally delivered the news in another phone call in December 2013.
The governor said that in the matter of McCollum and Brown, he has read that there are "varying views and opinions in this case."
The governor's executive clemency office receives an average of 60 to 80 requests for pardons every year for a variety of offenses. Between 2001 and 2007, only two pardons were issued; in 2012, 10 pardons were granted, according to the office's website. McCrory took office in early 2013.
The office investigates each case and can interview applicants and others, and can hold hearings. McCrory said the brothers' application isn't the only case under review.
The men were cleared of the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Robeson County. Because they were freed by a judge and not on a decision by the state Innocence Inquiry Commission, McCollum and Brown need a gubernatorial pardon to collect the compensation.
McCrory issued a statement in September saying he was "heartened" to see the convictions vacated and promised a pardon review would commence as soon as they submitted applications.