As Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation explained this week in an insightful blog post, the state’s ultra-belated decision to finally compensate the exonerated Henry McCollum and Leon Brown (who were wrongfully sentenced, respectively, to death and life imprisonment for a murder they did not commit) ought not to be the end of the story on the subject. This is from her post:
“As Gretchen Engel pointed out in her recent op-ed, the N.C. legislature has not proposed a single bill that would help determine if there are more innocent people on death row — even though more than 100 of North Carolina’s 148 death row inmates, like McCollum and Brown, were tried before the enactment of key reforms designed to protect the innocent.
The problems that plagued Henry’s case have not gone away, as we see from the many wrongful prosecutions that continue to today. A recent report showed that North Carolina routinely targets people with the death penalty based on flawed investigations and weak evidence.”
Add to this the inadequate compensation that the two men have been awarded (only around $22,500 per year for each of the 30+ years during which freedom was unjustly denied to them) and the absurd delay that Gov. Pat McCrory’s failure to issue a prompt pardon caused and it’s clear that changes to the law are necessary.
Interestingly, as it turns out, the North Carolina House agrees. Back in April, the House passed two bills and sent them to the Senate that would address some of the problems highlighted.
- House Bill 676, which passed the House unanimously, would make it easier for those erroneously convicted to gain compensation by removing the superfluous but burdensome roadblock of requiring a formal gubernatorial pardon.
- House Bill 678, which passed 110-2, would make multiple strengthening amendments to the laws governing the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission.
Another bill that remains in the Appropriations Committee, House Bill 398, would amend the laws governing how much compensation those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for decades can receive by, among other things, raising the cap from $750,000 to $1,500,000.
Not surprisingly, however, neither of the bills sent over by the House has yet been taken up by the Senate. Meanwhile, the proposal to raise the cap on compensation continues — as far as we can tell given the shroud of secrecy on Jones Street — to be ignored by budget negotiators.
In other words, McCollum and Brown have finally received a measure of partial and absurdly delayed justice, but the system that caused the problem remains broken and ignored.