RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory has granted pardons of innocence to two Robeson County man convicted in the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
Leon Brown and Henry McCollum were freed from prison in September after a judge overturned the convictions against them. The half-brothers have awaited the pardon, which allows them to collect compensation for their wrongful imprisonment, since pardon applications were received by McCrory on Sept. 15.
Brown and McCollum were convicted in 1984 of raping and killing Sabrina Buie, and the murder charge against Brown was later dropped. No physical evidence had tied the men to the crime, and lawyers for the men alleged that confessions they gave law enforcement had been coerced. McCollum was 19 and Brown 15 at the time of their convictions and both had low IQs.
The pardons, announced today during a news conference, make McCollum and Brown eligible to collect $50,000 for every year they were imprisoned, up to a $750,000 cap. They may also now receive help paying for job skills training and tuition.
“It is difficult for anyone to know for certain what happened the night of Sabrina Buie’s murder. My deepest sympathies go out to the family of Sabrina Buie for what they have endured,” McCrory said in a statement.
“I know there are differing opinions about this case and who is responsible. This has been a comprehensive and thoughtful process during the past nine months. Based on the available evidence I’ve reviewed, I am granting pardons of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. It’s the right thing to do.”
McCrory said in a statement that he had met personally with the men as part of his review.
“As with all pardons of innocence, both pardon applications for Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown were thoroughly reviewed by the Office of Executive Clemency, my legal team, and the Clemency Committee.”
The Robeson County District Attorney’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation have been conducting dual investigations into Buie’s death, which occurred on Sept. 24, 1983. One investigation — conducted as part of McCrory’s review of the pardon requests — looked at whether McCollum and Brown were culpable in Buie’s death. Another looks at whether anyone else should be charged in Buie’s death.
An investigation, opened in 2009 by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, found that DNA on a cigarette butt discovered at the scene of Buie’s murder matched the DNA of Roscoe Artis, who is in prison for committing a similar crime in Red Springs about one month after Buie’s death. Artis lived near the field where Buie’s body was found. That evidence was presented during the September hearing that led to the men’s freedom.