After being wrongfully convicted for the death of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie, spending more than 30 years in jail, and then waiting 266 days more for a pardon, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are finally and fully free men.
At a press conference held an hour ago (to which Policy Watch was denied access), Gov. Pat McCrory announced that he was granting pardons of innocence to both men.
Here’s what the governor had to say in his press release:
“Today, I announce that I am granting pardons of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.
“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.
“Many individuals were contacted and interviewed, and I met personally with Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown.
“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.
“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.”
The men were exonerated by Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser and ordered released in September 2014, years after a cigarette butt found at the crime scene implicated someone else as the murderer.
They left prison with $45 from the state in their pockets, led to believe that by law they were entitled to, and would soon get, additional compensation for the loss of 31 years of freedom.
Both filed requests for pardons — needed before they could get that compensation — on September 11, 2014, and have been waiting for the governor to act ever since.
“We’re very happy that the governor has done the right thing and granted pardons of innocence,” said Ken Rose, an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation who represented the men through their exoneration.
“He’s now joined the consensus of nearly everyone who’s looked at this case that Mr. Mccollum and Mr. Brown are innocent. This is one step for them to restart their lives, but it’s still going to be a long journey and a long fight for them to regroup and begin their lives again.
Rose also called on the governor to “to take the next step and halt all executions officially.”
“It’s just fortuitous that McCollum, having been on death row, was exonerated because of a cigarette butt that the real killer happened to leave at the scene of the crime. Had that not happened, he would still be on death row; he would still be under threat of execution. The only way to stop that from happening to innocent people is to stop executions.”
Vernetta Alston, an attorney from the Center who worked with Rose to get the men released, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m thrilled for Henry and Leon, that this has finally come through,” she said. “They’ve been waiting nine, almost ten long months. We’re happy that the governor has confirmed what we all know, that Henry and Leon are innocent. This solidifies what I think is now the governor’s obligation, to issue a formal moratorium on executions in the state.”