Crime & Courts

State approves payments to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown

Henry McCollum, left, and brother Leon Brown
Henry McCollum, left, and brother Leon Brown

The state of North Carolina on Wednesday formally approved the payment of $750,000 each to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, half-brothers who spent more than 30 years in prison for a murder they did not commit.

The action came exactly one year after a Superior Court judge declared the two men innocent of the 1983 murder of an 11-year-old girl in Robeson County.

Gov. Pat McCrory granted a pardon of innocence in June, a prerequisite for the approval of payment by a deputy commissioner of the N.C. Industrial Commission.

McCollum said the payment would help support his brother, himself and his family, who stood by them during their decades in prison.

Leon Brown did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. His sister, Geraldine Brown, said he is currently hospitalized for mental health treatment. She said this is the ninth time he has been hospitalized since his release from prison.

Geraldine Brown blames her brother’s problems on what she said were unspeakable things that happened to him in prison.

“Leon was treated like a dog,” she said. “Pick him up when you want to, do whatever you want to him, drop him and just forget about him, like a dog. Actually worse than a dog.”

Patrick Megaro, a lawyer for the brothers, said that he filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday against those involved in the arrest and prosecution of the two brothers: Robeson County; its sheriff and a deputy sheriff; the Town of Red Springs; two Red Springs police officers; the estate of the town’s former police chief; and two agents for the State Bureau of Investigation.

The lawsuit echoed what Geraldine Brown said after Wednesday’s hearing: “Leon was destroyed. … He will never be right again.”

Brown was a mentally disabled, happy-go-lucky 15-year-old when he was arrested, she said. The lawsuit said that Leon Brown developed severe and permanent mental illness as a result of his incarceration.

“Leon Brown was repeatedly the victim of sexual assault from other inmates, violently raped and brutalized as he was younger and weaker both mentally and physically,” the lawsuit said.

Another suspect

Thirty years ago, the brothers were the poster children of young men gone wild. In 1984, a Robeson County jury convicted them of gang-raping Sabrina Buie and killing her by stuffing her panties down her throat with a stick.

They were awarded new trials in the early 1990s; McCollum was again sentenced to death, and Brown received a life sentence. Further appeals were fruitless.

In 2010, a fellow inmate helped Brown apply to the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, the nation's only independent commission with the power to declare innocence.

After years of investigation, commission staffers in July 2014 delivered a bombshell: The DNA on a cigarette butt at the crime scene matched Roscoe Artis, a sexual predator with a long history of attacking women, including a similar rape and strangulation of a young Red Springs woman one month after the arrest of Brown and McCollum. (Artis remains in prison.)

With the support of Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, a Superior Court judge threw out their convictions and the charges and declared them innocent.