Justice for McCollum and Brown, News

PardonAfter 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.”




090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe global and national trend is unmistakable and, let’s hope, irresistible: the death penalty is on the way out and increasingly confined to authoritarian/theocratic states and lawless regions controlled by criminal bands.

In case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully lauds Nebraska’s courageous repeal vote from last week and urges North Carolina to get on board with this encouraging and fast-growing bandwagon. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the N&O essay:

“The death penalty also smacks of revenge punishment, something to give satisfaction to the family and friends of a murder victim. That’s not what the court system is about. It is about justice, not revenge.

And to argue, as many politicians have over many decades, that the death penalty is important because it is a deterrent to crime is simply disingenuous. It’s political convenience, because there’s little evidence to show a connection between the establishment of the death penalty and a decrease in crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it.

Sadly, North Carolina’s Republicans continue to lead the state away from enlightened thought on the issue. Legislators now are moving to restart stalled executions in the state by eliminating the requirement that a doctor be present.

North Carolina’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty offered a good summation here: “It is no longer conservative to support the death penalty – it’s just outdated. The legislators in Nebraska voted their consciences. They voted their values. They value life and creation and justice for all and recognize that the death penalty is, in fact, contrary to these values.”

It has been more than 40 years since a state acted to abolish the death penalty. Let us hope Nebraska’s action will be followed by other states sooner than that.”

Also, be sure to check out this op-ed from Fridays’ Asheville Citizen-Times in which a contributor explains his own evolving views on the death penalty.


The momentum for abolition continues to build. Yesterday, the legislature of the red state of Nebraska voted overwhelmingly to abolish the death penalty and today, arch-conservative hero George Will told us why it was a good idea:

“The conservative case against capital punishment, which 32 states have, is threefold. First, the power to inflict death cloaks government with a majesty and pretense of infallibility discordant with conservatism. Second, when capital punishment is inflicted, it cannot later be corrected because of new evidence, so a capital punishment regime must be administered with extraordinary competence. It is, however, a government program. Since 1973, more than 140 people sentenced to death have been acquitted of their crimes (sometimes by DNA evidence), had the charges against them dismissed by prosecutors or have been pardoned based on evidence of innocence. For an unsparing immersion in the workings of the governmental machinery of death, read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Third, administration of death sentences is so sporadic and protracted that their power to deter is attenuated. And the expensive, because labyrinthine, legal protocols with which the judiciary has enveloped capital punishment are here to stay. Granted, capital punishment could deter: If overdue library books were punishable by death, none would be overdue. But many crimes for which death is reserved, including Tsarnaev’s crime of ideological premeditation, are especially difficult to deter.

Those who favor capital punishment because of its supposed deterrent effect do not favor strengthening that effect by restoring the practice of public executions. There has not been one in America since 1937 (a hanging in Galena, Mo.) because society has decided that state-inflicted deaths, far from being wholesomely didactic spectacles, are coarsening and revolting.

Revulsion is not an argument, but it is evidence of what former chief justice Earl Warren called society’s “evolving standards of decency.” In the essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine,’ Albert Camus wrote, ‘The man who enjoys his coffee while reading that justice has been done would spit it out at the least detail.’ Capital punishment, say proponents, serves social catharsis. But administering it behind prison walls indicates a healthy squeamishness that should herald abolition.”


Today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File does a great job of exposing the downright craziness of the latest proposal to revive the death penalty in North Carolina and, in particular, the notion that we should keep the nature of the “drug cocktail” used to kill people a secret. Here’s Chris:

“States that still execute people can’t figure out how to do it and innocent people continue to be released from death row every year.

Simply making the process a secret to speed it up is not the answer. Henry McCollum is living proof of that.”

Of course, it could be that Chris is thinking too narrowly. Maybe this whole secrecy business is just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended). After all, once they succeed in keeping the secret death sauce contents away from prying public eyes, the obvious next step for death penalty supporters will be to keep the means of death itself a secret.

Yeah, that’s the ticket! Instead of sentencing people to “death by lethal injection,” we can just start sentencing them to “death by whatever handy means are readily available.”

And then, after the public gets used to that, we can simply sentence the condemned to “disappear.” Maybe we could even contract the job out to hyper-efficient private companies to save the taxpayers time, money and hassle. I’ll bet we can find some great offshore vendors to handle the contract.


State lawmakers made up for a sluggish (and, at times, even moderately encouraging) start to the 2015 session last night by passing a raft of dreadful and regressive bills that will continue North Carolina’s slide back into the pack of old confederate states that it once sought to lead.

Here are just a few of the lowlights of yesterday’s House and Senate sessions:

#1 – A bill that seeks to severely weaken the state’s Environmental Protection Act by dramatically reducing the number of public projects that will be subjected to an environmental review. This was the response of the watchdogs at the Sierra Club:

“We regret the disservice this legislation does to North Carolina’s environment and taxpayers alike. What’s troubling is that the House pushed this legislation through without any study or review of the impacts on the use of public funds and public lands.

There is no good reason to strike this historic environmental protection law. North Carolinians are looking for more transparency and accountability from leaders on the use of public funds – not less.”

#2- A bill to jump start executions by, among other things,  removing the requirement that physicians be present and shrouding in secrecy the drug cocktail that will be used to kill the condemned.

#3- A bill that would require teaching public school history students a list of so-called “founding principles” that are really just part of a the political agenda of a Koch Brothers-funded group.

#4 – A bill to weaken the state’s renewable energy requirement for electricity generators. According to

“The proposal introduced Wednesday night as an amendment to House Bill 760, a regulatory reform measure, would cap the REPS requirement at 6 percent permanently and would allow a utility to claim energy-efficiency savings for up to half of that requirement. Power companies could seek reimbursement from ratepayers for any investments or contracts they’ve already entered into in order to meet the higher renewables requirements that the proposal repeals.

The measure would also repeal an 80 percent property tax break that solar farms and facilities currently receive.”

#5 – A Senate bill to make felons out of kids 16 or older who commit assaults on teachers or school volunteers. The bill passed despite the passionate opposition of Senator Erica Smith-Ingram who told an emotional and personal story of a confrontation she had with a student while teaching high school and how keeping the student out of the criminal system had, in effect, saved his life.

There were many other counter-productive bills advanced yesterday (and a few promising ones — most notably the proposal to partially rein in the misclassification of workers by bad actor employers). Stay tuned for more updates throughout the day as we sift through the “Crossover Day” results.