(Update: According to the AP, the commission has awarded Henry McCollum and Leon Brown $750,000 each, the maximum available under state law.)

At a hearing today, the North Carolina Industrial Commission will consider compensation claims filed by Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two men wrongfully convicted in 1991 for the 1983 rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in Red Springs, North Carolina.

Under state law, the men are entitled to $50,000 for each of the more than 30 years they spent in jail — McCollum on death row and Brown serving a life sentence — up to $750,000 each.

The two men were exonerated by Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser a year ago after DNA evidence pointed to another man. It then took Gov. Pat McCrory 266 days to pardon the men, a necessary step before an award of compensation.

Patrick Megaro, who represents the two men, is expected to address the commission, following on the petition filed on their behalf in July.

According to a report from the Associated Press, McCollum plans to attend the hearing along with his sister, but Brown is hospitalized for mental health issues exacerbated by his time in prison.

Compensation could not come any sooner, as the men left prison with just $45 in their pockets and have struggled to adjust to life outside.  Even more important than the money though is having their names cleared, McCollum told the AP in June.

Read the petition for compensation filed on their behalf here.


wilmington10In a ruling that can only be described as cold and literal, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled today that the estates of four of the ten defendants wrongfully convicted for burning down a grocery store in Wilmington in 1971 amidst school desegregation violence there were not entitled to compensation under the state’s wrongful conviction law.

The “Wilmington 10” — nine African-American men and one white woman — spent years in jail before Gov. Jim Hunt commuted their sentences in 1977.

A 60 Minutes investigation exposed their trial as a farce. The prosecutor made up facts, coerced witnesses, and hid crucial evidence from the defense team that the law required him to turn over.

And a federal appeals court threw out the convictions in 1980 after even more evidence of prosecutorial misconduct surfaced and three key witnesses recanted their testimony, admitting they had committed perjury at the original trial.

Years later, the NC NAACP released newly-discovered additional evidence of unfairness during the original trial, including notes showing the prosecutor lied to a judge to get a mistrial so he could try the case again with another jury and notes evidencing racial profiling during jury selection, with notations from the prosecutor including “KKK? Good” next to one potential juror’s name and “Uncle Tom” beside another.

In late December 2012, then-Gov. Beverly Perdue issued pardons of innocence for all ten, including posthumous pardons for four who had since died —  Jerry Jacobs, Anne Shepard, Connie Tindall, and Joe Wright.

The six living members of the Wilmington 10 along with the estates of the four others then filed petitions with the  Industrial Commission for compensation due under state law to persons erroneously convicted of felonies.

The state awarded the six living members full compensation, but refused to give the estates of the other four anything, saying that the statute clearly and unambiguously applied only to persons who had been convicted of a crime, imprisoned, and granted a pardon of innocence before petitioning the State for compensation.

Today, the Court of Appeals agreed and ruled further that the right to compensation accrues at the time the “person” receives a pardon.  Since the four defendants whose estates had sued were not alive at the time of their pardons, they acquired no right to compensation under the law.

“We acknowledge plaintiffs’ assertion that ‘when an innocent person has had his or her liberty and a portion of his or her life wrongfully taken, . . . that harm lives on after death – especially in the lives of affected loved ones,’” Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman wrote for the court. “However, we are required by law to apply [the law] as it is written. These policy considerations are more appropriately raised with the legislative branch”

The full decision is here.



Joseph Sledge, convicted in 1978 of the murders of two eastern North Carolina women and in jail since, may now be just a few short days to freedom.

The 70-year-old Georgia native, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, has a court date this Friday with three judges who have the authority to exonerate him, according to this report in the News & Observer.

The hearing follows a December finding by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission that Sledge’s case warranted further judicial review. As the N&O noted:

Investigators from the innocence commission found no physical evidence tying Sledge to the slayings. A hair left on one of the victim’s exposed torso revealed a partial DNA profile that does not belong to Sledge. Investigators have yet to identify another possible killer.

The prosecutor on the case, Columbus County District Attorney Jon David, has yet to say what his position is on Sledge’s fate, but can consent to his exoneration, as other prosecutors have done in recent innocence proceedings involving other wrongfully convicted men.

Read more about Sledge’s case here.

NC Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey has our  must read story of the day. She previews the case of Joseph Sledge, who has spent half of his life behind bars for a double murder in Bladen County that he maintains he never committed.

DNA testing ruled out Sledge as the murderer in 2012, and this week the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence is in court working to have Sledge exonerated.

What makes the case even more extraordinary is that Sledge, if cleared, would not be not alone in this wrongful conviction. Here’s an excerpt from McCloskey’s story:

Should he prevail there (and in a later court review), the now 69-year-old Sledge will be the fourth innocent person cleared this year in North Carolina — joining Henry McCollum, Leon Brown, and Willie Womble, who were exonerated earlier this year.

Together they have more than 100 years in time spent behind bars – certainly more than a measure of any life.

Read the full story – Wrong place, wrong time, wrong conviction – on the main NC Policy Watch website.  And click below to hear a portion of Policy Watch’s recent radio interview with Christine Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence.

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Gov. Pat McCrory gave a pardon of innocence today to a man wrongly convicted of a 1988 slaying in Greensboro.

LaMonte Burton Armstrong, now 63 and living in Chapel Hill, had been released from prison in 2012 after a key witness recanted testimony that falsely linked Armstrong to the killing of Ernestine Compton, a professor at N.C. A & T.

The governor informed LaMonte Burton Armstrong of the pardon in a phone call today, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

McCrory’s pardon will mean Armstrong is eligible for compensation for the 16-plus years he spent in prison.

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