RALEIGH, June 4, 2015 – Today, NC Gov. Pat McCrory pardoned Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. These are the first pardons of people exonerated from North Carolina's death row in the modern era.
Last September Henry and Leon were exonerated for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in 1984. At the time of his release Henry was the longest-serving prisoner on North Carolina’s death row. Leon spent five years on death row and then a quarter-century in prison for the same crime.
“Henry and Leon are the eighth and ninth exonerees from North Carolina’s lethally flawed death penalty system,” said People of Faith Against the Death Penalty Executive Director Stephen Dear. “We thank Gov. McCrory for the pardons, but at the very least the next step is to place an immediate moratorium on executions in North Carolina. The only real solution to these atrocities is to repeal the death penalty.”
Though innocent, Henry and Leon became targets of the powerful.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia once called for Henry’s death in stating his support for the death penalty and called the execution of Henry by lethal injection “enviable.” In 2010 the NC Republican Party sent campaign mailers prior to the general election with Henry’s mug shot on it saying he would be free under the Racial Justice Act supported by Democrats. “Get to know Henry McCollum. He RAPED AND MURDERED AN 11 YEAR OLD CHILD….”
Both men have IQs in the 50s and 60s. After hours of intense police interrogation without lawyers present they signed confessions believing they could go home. New DNA evidence points to another man, Roscoe Artis, who is serving a life sentence for a similar murder committed just weeks after the murder of Sabrina Buie. Even after they were exonerated Leon and Henry were ordered to register as sex offenders, thus making it virtually impossible to get jobs.
“What Henry and Leon have faced we can’t imagine,” Dear said.
Outside of a court settlement in one case North Carolina has never outright provided any of its death row exonerees any compensation until now. Henry and Leon will receive up to $750,000.
“PFADP calls on North Carolinians to repent over allowing a system such as the death penalty to remain in place while the evidence of its outright moral and practical failure mounts year after year,” Dear said.
“You’ve still got innocent people on North Carolina’s death row,” Henry McCollum said as he was released last year. “You’ve got some guys who should not have gotten the death penalty. That’s wrong. You got to do something."