It should not have taken Gov. Pat McCrory nine months to decide to grant pardons to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two intellectually disabled men who were exonerated of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Robeson County in 1983.
Last year, a Superior Court judge declared the men innocent. Their handicaps had hindered their defense, but DNA testing by the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission proved they had been wrongly convicted of the murder in Red Springs.
It was a heinous crime, and the family of that young girl has a right to compassion and to a competent investigation, even at this date.
But McCollum and Brown did not commit the crime and never should have been imprisoned.
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Once the DNA evidence came and a judge took the extremely rare step of declaring two inmates innocent, they also should not have waited nine months for the governor to grant them a pardon. The two men, half-brothers who have been living with their sister, have been struggling. They are entitled under the law to $50,000 for each year they were wrongly imprisoned, which will amount to $750,000 apiece.
McCrory said he had to study the issue. He said that he met with the men and that the requests for pardons were reviewed by his legal advisers.
But the governor should have acted with more urgency. These innocent men waited too long for freedom, which may be the understatement of the century, and they waited too long to be eligible for compensation that rightly should ease them for the rest of their lives. The testing and the judge’s declaration should have been enough to set that process in motion.