Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are now numbers 145 and 146 on the list of innocent people exonerated from death row since 1973, based on DNA evidence. After a wrong conviction and 30 years in prison, McCollum and his half–brother Brown were exonerated and set free on Tuesday, September 2nd. McCollum and Brown’s story is one that shows the many flaws of the death penalty system. McCollum and Brown’s story begins in September 1983 when Sabrina Buie was murdered. McCollum and Brown, ages 19 and 15 at the time, were arrested for the murder. McCollum and Brown were both subjugated to intense interrogation by prosecutors, who intimidated and threatened them, despite the fact that both brothers are developmentally disabled.
They were both initially sentenced to death, but retrials in 1991 and 1992 saw McCollum convicted of murder and sentenced to death again, and Brown convicted of rape and his sentence reduced to life-in-prison. The breakthrough in the case came in 2009 when DNA analysis from a cigarette butt, found on the crime scene, linked another inmate to the murder. McCollum and Brown’s convictions were overturned by Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser, who concluded that the results of the DNA analysis of the cigarette butt found near Sabrina’s body contradicted the case put forth by prosecutors. While celebrating McCollum and Brwon’s exoneration is important, it’s every bit as important to keep working toward an end of a death penalty system fraught with error.