*Two half brothers, mentally disabled, have regained their freedom after spending 30-years in prison for a crime they never committed. In 1983, they were named as participants in the gruesome rape and murder of an 11-year-old North Carolina girl, based on no evidence, other than a finger pointed at them by a local teen.
Now the names of Henry Lee McCollum and his half brother, Leon Brown, have been cleared after DNA evidence was introduced, according to the New York Times.
The reports claim that the case against the men always had holes, but DNA evidence is what finally got them released. This evidence connected another man—who lived only one block from where the victim’s body was recovered at the time—to the crime.
For three decades McCollum, 50, sat on death row, while his 46-year-old brother, Brown, served a life sentence.
“We waited all these long years for this,” McCollum’s father, James McCollum, said. “Thank you, Jesus.”
Friends and family cried during the court proceedings as the brothers’ exoneration was announced, and when the judge ordered their release, the Times reports that the courtroom cheered in a standing ovation.
This is how the incident occurred in the first place, according to the Times. McCollum was 19 and his brother was 15 when police brought them in for questioning regarding the brutal incident. There was no physical evidence tying the two men to the crime, but a local teen claimed that McCollum, who had recently moved to the area with Brown and was considered an outsider, had committed the crime.
McCollum said that a confession was forced out of him after hours of questioning without a lawyer. “I had never been under this much pressure, with a person hollering at me and threatening me,” McCollum told the News & Observer in a recent interview. “I just made up a story and gave it to them so they would let me go home.”
He had signed a statement written by investigators before he asked, “Can I go home now?”
Brown said that he was subjected to the same treatment and was also made to sign a confession under threats of execution.
They later recanted during the trial. McCollum noted in his written confession that two other men were also a part of the crime, but they were never prosecuted, the Times notes.
See a video report below about the brothers’ release and read more at the New York Times.