Under the Dome

A primer on McCollum, Brown and McCrory’s pardon

Gov. Pat McCrory’s pardon for Henry McCollum and Leon Brown closes a case that burst into the headlines last summer. Here’s a recap from the News & Observer’s archives:

August 2014: New DNA evidence could free two men in notorious Robeson County case

Excerpt: Police wrote the confessions in longhand; Brown and McCollum signed each page.

Those two confessions, the only evidence against the brothers, have kept them locked up for the past 30 years, 11 months and two days. Both men are mentally disabled; McCollum with an IQ in the 60s, Brown scoring as low as 49. McCollum and Brown have said they were bullied and tricked into confessing. They have maintained their innocence of the rape and murder of Sabrina Buie.

No one in authority believed them: police, prosecutors, jurors, judges. Even McCollum’s lawyers at his second trial browbeat him to admit guilt.

Brown and McCollum finally have the evidence strong enough to refute their 1983 confessions. The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission has unearthed DNA evidence showing the killer was a sexual predator with a lengthy criminal history, including a similar rape and murder in Red Springs one month after the arrest of Brown and McCollum.

Full story, click here.

Sept. 2014: Judge overturns convictions of Robeson men in child’s 1983 rape, murder

Excerpt: The packed courtroom erupted in applause and tears after Superior Court Judge Doug Sasser ordered them freed.

McCollum did not even smile afterward, his face beaded and his dress shirt dappled with sweat, his hands still cuffed and legs in chains.

“I thank God for the strength to carry me through 31 years,” McCollum said.

Leon Brown allowed himself a broad smile, saying he was “feeling real good right now.”

The brothers were kept apart on Tuesday and did not talk with or touch each other.

They will face a bewildering and difficult time, having been locked up their entire adult lives. Both are mentally challenged, with IQ tests scoring in the 50s or 60s. They struggle with basic reading and writing, and they have lived three decades in a world where guards told them when to wake, dress, eat, shower and sleep.

Full story, click here.

Sept. 2014: NC brothers released from prison spend first day in freedom

Excerpt: The 31-year nightmare that swallowed the lives of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown ended on a sticky Wednesday afternoon on a modest street here, the day after a judge declared them innocent of a brutal 1983 rape and murder.

Leon Brown, fresh from a Greene County prison, stepped from his cousin’s car, blinking in the sunlight, unsure where to go or what to do after three decades behind bars and prison guards dictating his every move.

McCollum, in a smart tweed jacket and silvery black tie instead of the bright red khakis of death row, looked intently at his brother before deliberately crossing the street.

As the two brothers hugged, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews broke into applause.

McCollum, 50, was silent and misty-eyed. Brown, 46, smiled: “Free now. It’s over.”

For three decades, the brothers have been the poster children of young men gone wild, convicted of gang-raping an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buie, and killing her by stuffing her panties down her throat with a stick.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser declared them innocent and ordered them freed.

Full story, click here.

Jan. 2015: For Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, freedom has a cost

Excerpt: Henry McCollum spent three decades in prison, an innocent man on death row, praying every day for his freedom.

But now, four months after he and his half brother were exonerated of a horrible rape and murder, McCollum is struggling in the free world.

He can’t drive. His family has no car and no income. He’d like to work as a janitor, but he feels he needs a pardon to clear his name before he can get a job.

“I can’t do nothing to help my family,” McCollum said. “They’re not able to pay their bills.”

McCollum and his half brother, Leon Brown, were locked up their entire adult lives. Their IQ tests show scores in the 50s or 60s. They struggle with basic reading and writing, and they have lived more than half their lives in a world being ordered around by others.

For the first few weeks, McCollum said he would be sitting in his bedroom, and his stepmother would holler and ask where he was.

“I’d say, ‘I’m in my cell,’ ” McCollum said.

Full story, click here.

Feb. 2015: Gov. McCrory still reviewing pardon for brothers

Excerpt: A Superior Court judge declared them innocent in September. North Carolina law authorizes payment of $50,000 a year, up to a maximum of $750,000, to incarcerated individuals later proven innocent. But the brothers first need to obtain a pardon of innocence from the governor.

“Yesterday, I was heartened to see the convictions of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown vacated by the court,” McCrory said in a Sept. 4 press release. “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.”

Lawyers for the two men submitted the 6-page joint application for a pardon of innocence on Sept. 11.

McCrory’s office did not respond to requests for comments on the status of the pardon ahead of Sunday's article. On Monday, McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis replied by text message: “We are still in the process of reviewing the requests.” Ellis said they would have no further comment.

Full story, click here.

Thursday: Governor pardons McCollum, Brown

Excerpt: Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday pardoned two half-brothers who were exonerated of murder after spending three decades in prison.

The governor took nine months to make the decision, saying he thoroughly reviewed the pardons sought by Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. Both men are intellectually disabled. ... The governor called a news conference to make the announcement. McCrory then issued the following statement:

“I know there are differing opinions about this case and who is responsible. This has been a comprehensive and thoughtful process during the past nine months. Based on the available evidence I’ve reviewed, I am granting pardons of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. It’s the right thing to do.”

Full story, click here.