Earlier: In my email box just now, from a D.C. publicity firm (my e-book on the death penalty in America here). Supreme Court Justice Scalia had singled out McCollum as being especially worthy of state murder.
LUMBERTON, N.C. — On Tuesday, two men, including North Carolina’s longest serving death row inmate, were exonerated and released from prison after serving 30 years for a rape and murder they did not commit.
New DNA evidence, which proved their innocence, prompted a Robeson County judge to dismiss all charges against Henry Lee McCollum, who was living under a death sentence, and his half-brother, Leon Brown, who was serving a life sentence for the rape. Both are severely intellectually disabled and were teenagers – McCollum 19 years old, Brown just 15 - at the time of their arrests in 1983.
McCollum and Brown were released after a hearing Tuesday morning in Robeson County Superior Court, in which the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, an independent state agency, detailed the results of its investigation, including DNA testing of items found at the crime scene. The Commission found that none of the items could be traced to McCollum or Brown. Instead, critical DNA evidence matched another individual named Roscoe Artis, a convicted rapist and murderer who lived less than 100 yards from where the victim’s body was found.
Lawyers for the two men said the new testing leaves no doubt about their clients’ innocence. “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,” said Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, who has represented McCollum for 20 years. “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.”