They have spent the last 30 years of their lives in prison for the gruesome rape and murder of an 11-year-old North Carolina girl, but now Henry Lee McCollum and his half brother, Leon Brown, have been given their freedom after DNA evidence cleared their names, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, the case against the men always had holes, but DNA evidence is what finally got them released. It connected another man—who lived a mere block from where the victim’s body was recovered at the time—to the crime, the news site notes.
McCollum, 50, sat for 30 years on death row, while 46-year-old Brown was serving a life sentence.
“We waited all these long years for this,” McCollum’s father, James McCollum, said. “Thank you, Jesus.”
Friends and family cried during the court proceedings announcing their exoneration, and when the judge ordered their release, the courtroom cheered in a standing ovation, according to the Times.
According to the Times, when McCollum was 19 and his brother was 15, police brought them in for questioning regarding the brutal incident. There was no physical evidence tying the two men to the crime, but a local teen claimed that McCollum, who had recently moved to the area with Brown and was considered an outsider, had committed the crime, the news site notes.
McCollum said that a confession was forced out of him after hours of questioning without a lawyer. “I had never been under this much pressure, with a person hollering at me and threatening me,” McCollum told the News & Observer in a recent interview. “I just made up a story and gave it to them so they would let me go home.”
He had signed a statement written by investigators before he asked, “Can I go home now?”
Brown said that he was subjected to the same treatment and was also made to sign a confession under threats of execution.