2 US men freed after 30 years will seek pardons; 1 had been on death row for girl's killing

Jonathan Drew / The Associated Press
September 4, 2014 02:58 PM

Leon Brown listens to evidence during a court hearing for him and his half brother, death row inmate Henry McCollum Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 in Lumberton, N.C. On Tuesday, a judge overturned the convictions of McCollum and Brown in the 1983 rape and murder of the 11-year-old girl, citing the new evidence that they didn't commit the crime. . (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy)

RALEIGH, N.C. - Two men are planning to ask for pardons after they were freed this week from a U.S. prison following the discovery of evidence that they didn't kill a young girl 30 years ago. One of the men had been on death row.

Vernetta Alston, an attorney for Henry McCollum, says lawyers representing him and his half brother, Leon Brown, are preparing petitions for a pardon of innocence and plan to file within the next couple of weeks. McCollum was freed from death row after three decades, while Brown had been serving a life sentence.

On Tuesday, a judge vacated convictions against Brown and McCollum and ordered their release, citing new DNA evidence that indicates another man killed and raped 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983.

The judge and local prosecutor acknowledged there was no physical evidence linking brown and McCollum to the crime. Defence attorneys say the two were coerced into confessing as scared teenagers with low IQs.

Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who didn't prosecute the men, said that the new evidence negated what was presented at trial. The prosecutor has said he's considering whether to reopen the case and charge the other man.

If the men are pardoned, they would be eligible to claim compensation under a state law that allows up to $750,000 for people wrongly convicted of felonies.

Gov. Pat McCrory in a statement said he was happy their convictions were overturned and that his office has a process for reviewing pardon applications.

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