More than 30 years they lost, the half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, for a rape and murder they did not commit. And before finally compensating each with $750,000 for those years they’ll never get back, the state of North Carolina made them wait yet another year after a Superior Court judge found they were innocent in the 1983 murder of an 11-year-old girl in Robeson County.
The state had to go through a process of sorts, with the two needing a gubernatorial pardon of innocence, which didn’t come until June. It took too long. And though one can hope nothing like this happens again, there will surely be other times when the wrongfully convicted are finally exonerated, thanks to the work of the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, which worked exhaustively to right the wrong done to these men.
When the next case comes, the state should move more quickly with funds that are due.
Twice convicted, the brothers were found innocent thanks to DNA evidence found on a cigarette butt at the crime scene that didn’t match either of them, but did match a man who was a sexual predator with a history of attacking women. That man is in prison.
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McCollum and Brown will have better lives now thanks to some measure of financial security, but they were failed by the justice system, which ought to use every instance such as this to examine thoroughly what went wrong and how mistakes can be avoided.