RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Two brothers wrongfully imprisoned for three decades in the killing of an 11-year-old girl have reached a settlement with investigators who helped put them behind bars.
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown have sought an unspecified amount of money in damages from local and state law enforcement agents. Their motion filed Tuesday seeks a judge’s approval for a settlement that would end their lawsuit, which accused the authorities of violating their civil rights.
Details weren’t disclosed. Their lawyer, Patrick Megaro, asked to seal all related documents, and didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
McCollum, 53, and Brown, 49, were freed from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence indicated that another man raped and killed the girl. They were later pardoned and awarded $750,000 each from the state through a separate process for wrongful convictions.
The half-brothers sued the Robeson County sheriff, who was a deputy at the time of the 1983 investigation, as well as state and local investigators. Several lawyers representing the defendants either didn’t return messages or declined comment.
McCollum was 19, Brown 15 when Sabrina Buie was killed in rural Robeson County. Their attorneys have said they were scared, had low IQs and were berated by investigators who fed them details about the crime before they signed confessions saying they were part of a group that killed the girl.
The civil lawsuit says both men were bullied and attacked by other inmates during their many years in prison.
The two 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 found guilty of rape and sentenced to life.
But no physical evidence connected them to the crime. DNA on a cigarette at the scene didn’t match either one of them. Fingerprints on a beer can weren’t theirs either.
A break in the case happened after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission got involved several years ago and had new DNA analysis done on evidence from the crime scene.
McCollum and Brown have struggled to adapt to freedom after spending most of their adult lives in prison. Megaro has said that Brown has been repeatedly hospitalized for mental health problems, including hallucinations and deep depression.
Current Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who didn’t prosecute the half-brothers, said in an email Wednesday that no decision has been made on whether to pursue charges against the other man whose DNA was found on evidence at the scene. That man is in prison for another murder.
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