Sep 15, 2014
After 31 years in prison on death row, Henry Lee McCollum, 51, and Leon Brown, 46, have just been released.
In 1983, these two half-brothers were rapidly charged and sentenced for raping and killing a young girl. The charges relied upon their confessions to the crime, confessions which had been dictated by the police following intense pressure. The brothers’ claims of innocence were ignored. The fact that they were mentally disabled and that Brown was only 15 did not prevent them from being sentenced.
All the material evidence that exonerated them was hidden away. The DNA of a cigarette butt found at the crime scene eventually proved them innocent. This DNA is that of a man, living 100 yards from the crime, who was also sentenced for a similar rape and crime he had committed four weeks before the first one. In 1983, neither the district attorney nor the police tried to relate both crimes.
The district attorney who prosecuted them, Joe Freeman Britt, boasted he could double the number of death sentences he was involved in, 48 in all, which made him hold a sinister record in the Guinness book of records.
When the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission asked the Red Springs police for the evidence of the crime scene (hair, etc.), they said they no longer had them … until a Commission investigator found them in the police station.
In brief, this judicial error was not really an error. It was part of the racist way the U.S. “justice” system works and has sentenced to jail or to death hundreds, thousands of men, most of whom are black, for crimes they did not commit.
The “Innocence Project” has found innocent 146 prisoners on death row. How many more innocent men will never be exonerated? Today, there are more than 3,000 on death row, including 152 in North Carolina alone. Since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976, 1386 people have been executed.
The U.S. may claim the rule of law applies, but poor, black people in particular are the first victims of a system that is a travesty of justice.