Wrongfully Convicted? Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry?

in Violent Crimes, on

We wrote about Henry McCollum and Leon Brown in our Sept. 5 post. We didn’t refer to them by name, but the post is unmistakably about them. The two were convicted of murder more than 30 years ago, but McCollum’s petition to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission resulted in a fresh look at the evidence. In September, their convictions were overturned, and the two left prison.

There were so many things wrong with the original investigation. For instance, McCollum and Brown were 17 and 15 years old at the time, and both endured hours of questioning by the police before signing confessions. They have claimed since their trial that the confessions were coerced, but the crime was awful, and the victim was just 11 years old. Law enforcement and the community needed convictions ASAP, and technology was not sophisticated enough to direct investigators’ attention to any other suspects.

So these guys spent 30 years in prison, and now they are out. But being out of prison and being set free are not the same thing.

The judge exonerated the half-brothers in September. The court recognized their innocence, and the district attorney dropped the charges. But the system does not connect the exoneration to the initial arrest. As a result, the arrests for murder remain on the men’s records. Without clean records, they do not qualify for state-funded job training or support services — or compensation for the time they spent in prison.

For that, they need to be pardoned.

Surprisingly, exoneration is not the same thing as a pardon. The only way to get the arrest off their records is to petition the governor for pardons. If the governor agrees, then the two men will be able to petition the state for compensation. Each is eligible for a $750,000 award, if their petition is granted.

Reports are that they are still waiting on that petition. They have no income, no homes to go to; they are apparently living with relatives while they hope for the pardons.

It’s a strange irony that the state controlled their existence for 30 years when they were “guilty” but wants nothing to do with them now that they are innocent.

Sources:

Fox Carolina, “Wrongly Convicted: Two brothers freed 30 years later,” Theo Hayes, Nov. 10, 2014

The Daily Tarheel (UNC Chapel Hill), “Column: How we treat our innocent,” Seth Rose, Nov. 10, 2014