A federal civil rights trial in North Carolina ended with a jury awarding two Black, mentally challenged half-brothers $75 million on Friday. Both men were found wrongfully convicted after spending three decades in prison over the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
According to NBC News, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were both awarded $31 million in compensatory damages, which breaks down to $1 million for each year they spent behind bars. Additionally, the jury awarded them $13 million in punitive damages.
McCollum was 19 and Brown was 15 when they were initially accused of the crime that occurred in Red Springs, N.C. The boys both had mental disabilities and attorneys for the two said that they were scared and coerced into confessing to the crime by police officers during questioning. They were both found guilty and sentenced to death, with McCollum spending most of his 31 years in prison on death row.
The men were released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence that implicated a convicted murderer in the crime led to their exoneration. Shortly after, the men filed a civil suit in 2015 as they believed their civil rights were violated during their interrogations.
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office was named as one of the defendants in the case and settled on Friday for $9 million. The town of Red Springs was also initially named in the civil suit, but they settled back in 2017 for $1 million.
I’m happy the men got their money, but goddamn, y’all. They spent the majority of their adult lives in prison over something they didn’t do. No amount of cash can buy back that time. The saddest part of it all is that this doesn’t seem to be that unusual.
“I’ve got my freedom,” McCollum told reporters after the trial. “There’s still a lot of innocent people in prison today. And they don’t deserve to be there.”