The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were neither murderers nor rapists. But they were convicted anyway by a system more attuned to finding scapegoats than to dispensing real justice.
The brothers were convicted of the 1983 rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie, whose body was found in a Red Springs soybean field in 1983.
A new trial in 1992 found Brown guilty of rape, but not murder. He got a life sentence. Until his release last year, McCollum was the longest-serving inmate on death row in Raleigh’s Central Prison.
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Were it not for this state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission, the two might still be in prison. The commission was created by the General Assembly in 2006 to review questionable cases. Three years later, Brown sent a letter to the commission, saying he was innocent and requesting an investigation.
The commission reviewed the evidence against the men and added modern technology to its probe. A cigarette butt found at the crime scene was tested for DNA, and it got an immediate match: Roscoe Artis, a man who lived near the crime scene and had a long history of assaults and rapes.
Artis wasn’t hard to find. He is serving a life sentence for the murder of 18-year-old Joann Brockman, who was killed in similar fashion, just a month after Sabrina Buie’s murder.
Eight months ago, a Robeson County judge reviewed the evidence and ordered the two men released. Since then, they have lived with their sister, near Eastover. The two are adjusting to the 21st century, learning about the Internet, cellphones and other integral parts of modern life that arrived while they were in prison.
But they are still in limbo, still not completely free to resume a normal life. Because of their rape convictions, they were ordered to register as sex offenders before they were released. Their convictions are still on their records and a serious impediment to finding work.
By law, the state owes them $50,000 for each year of their improper incarceration, up to a maximum of $750,000. And even more important, the governor owes them a pardon – which rightfully should have come as soon as the men were cleared of the crimes. Three decades of their lives were unjustly taken away. There is no compensation large enough.
We hope the governor and his staff move quickly to clear McCollum’s and Brown’s records and get them the compensation they are due. They’ve given up more than anyone ever should.
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