This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019

Brothers wrongly convicted of murdering girl have trouble adjusting to outside world

They were kept in jail for three decades and recently received a payout of $750k each.

Henry McCollum
Henry McCollum
Image: Associated Press

TWO NORTH CAROLINA brothers were awarded $750,000 each in compensation for the three decades they were wrongfully imprisoned over the killing of an 11-year-old girl.

Henry McCollum, 51, appeared calm as a North Carolina commission formally awarded the money to him and half brother Leon Brown, 47, during a hearing.

Brown is in the hospital, suffering from health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, the brothers’ lawyer said, and did not attend.


McCollum and Brown were released last September after a judge threw out their convictions, citing new DNA evidence that points to another man in the 1983 rape and killing of Sabrina Buie.

McCollum had been the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina’s death row. Brown had been sentenced to life in prison.

McCollum, who has been living with his sister, said he is happy the money will enable him to support himself and help his family.

Soybean Field Slaying James McCollum, facing camera, embraces his son Henry following the younger man's release from Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C Source: Michael Biesecker

“My family, they have struggled for years and years,” he said.

It’s hard out there for them, and I want to help them.

The governor pardoned the brothers in June, a step that made each eligible to receive $50,000 from the state for every year spent in prison, with a limit of $750,000. They can also receive educational benefits from the state.

Their attorney said the money will be put in a trust and invested so that the brothers can live off the earnings and won’t have to work.

Adjusting to the outside world

In the months since their release, both men have had trouble adjusting to the outside world after spending most of their adult lives in prison.

Money has been a problem, but McCollum has said the most important part of the pardon was having his name cleared.

McCollum listed some of the things he enjoys about freedom:

Being out here, to be able to breathe the air. To be able to walk around as a free man. To be able to walk down that street with my head up high.

The killing

Sabrina’s body was found in a soybean field in rural Robeson County, cigarette butts, a beer can and two bloody sticks nearby. Defence attorneys have said the brothers were scared teenagers with low IQs when they were questioned by police and coerced into confessing. McCollum was 19, Brown 15.

The DNA from the cigarettes didn’t match Brown or McCollum, and fingerprints on the beer can weren’t theirs either.

No physical evidence connects them to the crime, a prosecutor acknowledged last year.

Brothers Pardoned Henry McCollum holds a framed copy of his pardon before a hearing on compensation by the state Source: Associated Press

Both men were initially given death sentences. In 1988, the state Supreme Court threw out their convictions and ordered new trials. McCollum was again sent to death row, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

The men’s sister, Geraldine Brown, said that she is happy for her brothers but that the pardon and compensation are bittersweet, considering that Leon Brown is “really sick” from his time in prison. She said he suffers mental problems including PTSD as well as diabetes.

“He did not go in that way,” she said.

They snatched him from my mother as a baby.

Megaro sued Robeson County, the town where the killing happened, the sheriff and others on Monday in federal court on behalf of the men. The lawsuit said the men’s civil rights were violated and seeks unspecified damages.

Read: Brothers wrongfully convicted for killing little girl ‘want a normal life’ after 30 years behind bars>

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

About the author:

Associated Press

Read next: