Three decades after being convicted of raping murdering an 11-year-old girl in North Carolina, two mentally disabled half-brothers have been declared innocent and ordered released from prison.
The two men -- one of whom was sentenced to death, the other to life in prison -- were convicted based in large part on confessions that the men claimed were coerced and which they immediately recanted, reports The New York Times.
What was the new evidence that finally convinced a judge the two men were telling the truth about their innocence?
Post-Conviction Analysis of DNA Evidence
Similar to other recent overturned convictions, the convictions of Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown were overturned after DNA analysis of evidence collected during the original investigation implicated another man in the crime.
In this case the other man was Roscoe Artis, who, according to The New York Times, lived just a block from where 11-year-old Sabrina Buie's body was found. Artis later admitted to raping and murdering a teenage girl. He was convicted and is now serving life in prison for that crime, but has never been charged in relation to Sabrina Buie's death.
Case Previously Cited by U.S. Supreme Court
Even before the men's exoneration, their convictions had become newsworthy due to the moral divide over death sentences in cases where the defendants are mentally retarded or challenged.
Although the Supreme Court denied review of the case, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Blackmun decried McCollum's death sentence as "unconstitutional" given that McCollum "has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old."
Previously, the case had also been cited by Justice Antonin Scalia in his opinion denying certiorari in a different death penalty case, 1994's Callins v. Collins. In his opinion, Scalia described McCollum's death sentence as "enviable" and "a quiet death" compared to the death of Buie.
However, now Brown and McCollum's case is equally noteworthy as the latest murder conviction overturned through the use of DNA evidence. According to The New York Times, the men were set to be released from prison today.
- After 30 years in prison, two mentally challenged men exonerated in North Carolina rape-murder case (The Washington Post)
- Ohio Man Freed by DNA Evidence After 29 Years in Prison (FindLaw's Blotter)
- DNA Evidence Clears 2 Men After 30 Years (FindLaw's Blotter)
- NYC Reviewing 800 Rape Cases for Evidence Errors (FindLaw's Blotter)