Two “intellectually disabled” brothers, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown spent decades in jail for a rape and murder that they didn’t commit. McCullum was awaiting execution on death row for over 30 years and Brown, who at one time was on death row, was serving a life sentence when DNA evidence implicated Rosco Artis, a convicted rapist and murder who lived 100 yards away from where the body was found.
The brothers were only in their teens when they were charged in 1983 with the murder of 11 year old Sabrina Buie. Over 20 years later, a cigarette bud found in the parking lot where the girl’s body was found is what freed them. Still, justice seems like it won’t be served because Artis is already serving a life sentence in prison.
“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. 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,” says Ken Rose, McCullum’s lawyer.
Despite the DNA evidence, the original prosecutor, Joe Freeman Britt, is adamant he got the right men and calls it a “tragic day for justice.”
The police force that arrested the brothers is accused of hiding crucial evidence from the time of the boys’ trial up until last month. The existence of the evidence, gathered at the crime scene, was never disclosed either to the boys’ defence teams or to the district attorney prosecuting the case.
The current district attorney for Robeson County, Johnson Britt, agreed on Tuesday that the two men are innocent and consented to their unconditional release. No further charges will be brought against them.