Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Innocent Men Set Free After 30 Years

Photo: from the AP article mentioned below: "In an an Aug. 12, 2014 photo, Henry McCollum sits on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. He and his half brother Leon Brown have spent more than three decades in prison for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1983."

I credited the caption from the article, but what I really wanted to write was:

For every overturned case due to newly-found DNA evidence that highlights a murder conviction based solely on bias--Doesn't this photo really say it all?

For the full report, read this article at this link.  Most of this entry is copied and pasted from this article, which states the facts much better than I could have.  Below the line is where I step in.

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina judge overturned the convictions Tuesday of two men who have served 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl after another man's DNA was recently discovered on evidence in the case.

Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser ordered the immediate release of Henry McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46. The half brothers were convicted in the 1983 slaying of Sabrina Buie in Robeson County.

Lawyers for the men petitioned for their release after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt recovered at the crime scene pointed to another man. That man, who lived close to the soybean field where the dead girl's body was found, is already serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that happened less than a month later.

Sasser ruled after a day-long evidence hearing during which Sharon Stellato, the associate director North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, testified about three interviews she had over the summer with the 74-year-old inmate now suspected of killing Buie. The Associated Press does not generally disclose the names of criminal suspects unless they are charged.

According to Stellato, the inmate said at first he didn't know Buie. But in later interviews, the man said the girl would come to his house and buy cigarettes for him, Stellato said.

The man also told them he saw the girl the night she went missing and gave her a coat and hat because it was raining, Stellato said. He told the commission that's why his DNA may have been at the scene.

Stellato also said the man repeatedly told her McCollum and Brown are innocent.

Still, he denied involvement in the killing, Stellato said. He told the commission that the girl was alive when she left his house and that he didn't see her again. He told the commission that he didn't leave the house because it was raining and he had to work the next day.

Stellato said weather records show it didn't rain the night Buie went missing or the next day.

Authorities said McCollum, who was 19 at the time, and Brown, who was 15, confessed to killing Buie.

Attorneys said both men have low IQs and their confessions were coerced after hours of questioning. There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.

Both were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, where he remains, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

The DNA from the cigarette butts doesn't match either of them, and fingerprints taken from a beer can at the scene aren't theirs either. The other man now suspected in Buie's killing was convicted of assaulting three other women over 30 years before his last conviction.

Lawyers for the two men said the new testing leaves no doubt about their clients' innocence.
Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, has represented Henry McCollum for 20 years.

"It's terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for 30 years," Rose said. "Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution. He would become so distraught he had to be put in isolation. It's impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost."


I have nothing but outrage to add to this, a pity since outrage doesn't come across well in a blog.  So I'll just reiterate one point: 

"There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime."

However, despite this, "...[b]oth were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, where he remains..."

How do you give someone the death penalty--TWICE--for a conviction not based on any physical evidence at all, ever?  How does a mentally deficient man get the death penalty based on a confession he couldn't possibly have given willingly, in a case in which there's zero physical evidence against him?  And this wasn't in the bigoted first half of the 20th Century.  This was in 1983--just 31 years ago.

How many times do you think a black man with a very low IQ has been given the death penalty based solely on a "confession" and zero physical evidence?

Why doesn't somebody of national relevance order a review of every single case in which a black and /or mentally deficient (because of an extremely low IQ) man has been incarcerated due to convictions based on a "confession" and zero physical evidence?


  1. Is there enough man power to review every single case of a black man with or without low EQ serving a life sentance? It would probably cost too much and take up too much time considering the number of cases involving a black man or minority was accused soley based on race/education/class standards/confession, etc.

    As I read this article I kept asking myself how did they get convicted in the first place without any evidence? How is that possible and for so many years? Why not review the case earlier? Those two men have completely lost out on living their lives. Setting them free now is a slap in the face. They are emotionally and spiritually ruined. You would think a case like this would bring up an investigation of current inmates, but again I highly doubt it will. It will be filed away as a bad mistake which will eventually be forgotton.

    1. Such a thing should never be forgotten. And any conviction that's now a popular Law and Order cliche--like the "forced confession of those with limited intelligence" certainly is (though I doubt it's called that)--should be investigated. Recent DNA results have shown that most of those--if not all of those--who are incarcerated despite a lack of physical evidence simply didn't do it. This is so overwhelmingly the case that each state owes a re-investigation of this sort of conviction in order to re-build the public trust in that state's courts.

      Enough public anger--and letters and emails to its representatives--can easily get this done. Maybe law students or interns can pore through all the paperwork and separate such cases for the public defenders and lawyers to look at. Maybe universities can make it a mandatory part of an internship.