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Half-brothers to go free after convictions overturned in 1983 murder

Posted September 2
Updated September 3

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— A judge in Robeson County on Tuesday ordered that two half-brothers – one of whom is on death row – imprisoned for 30 years for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl be set free after newly discovered evidence shows someone else likely was responsible for the crime.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser overturned the convictions of Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, for the September 1983 death of Sabrina Buie based on DNA analysis of a cigarette butt found at the crime scene.

Buie was found dead in a Red Springs soybean field, naked except for a bra pushed up against her neck. A short distance away, police found the cigarette butt as well as two bloody sticks.

McCollum, who was 19 at the time, and his half-brother Brown, who was 15, confessed to killing Buie. Both men were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, while Brown was convicted only of rape and sentenced to life in prison.

A review of the case by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission uncovered the DNA evidence, which, test results showed, were linked to another man who's currently serving life in prison for a similar rape and murder.

McCollum and Brown's family members – some of whom hadn't seen the men since they were convicted – packed the Robeson County courtroom for Tuesday's daylong hearing.

They were elated by Sasser's ruling.

"We waited years and years," their father, James McCollum, said. "We have kept the faith waiting on God to make the move. He made the move, and they're released."

"Our prayers go out for Sabrina Buie's family. We're praying for them," his wife, Priscilla McCollum, said. "We are so glad that this justice was served and the truth finally came forth. We thank God for that, and we're going to go on with our lives."

Defense attorneys for the pair argued that there was no physical evidence connecting McCollum and Brown to Buie's death – fingerprints on a beer can found at the crime scene also couldn't be matched to them.

Both men have low IQs, their attorneys said, and their confessions – the only evidence against them – were coerced after hours of questioning.

Instead, the DNA from the cigarette matches Roscoe Artis, 74, who is serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman just a few miles away, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree.

Artis also was convicted of assaulting three other women over 30 years before his last conviction. The fingerprint on the can found near Buie had not been checked with his prints as of last week.

District Attorney Johnson Britt acknowledged the DNA discovery in court papers, and said he does not intend to file any other charges against McCollum and Brown.

Complicating matters even more was the discovery last month of a box of evidence from the original trial at the small Red Springs police station that authorities thought was lost.

Brown's lawyer, Ann Kirby, called the case alarming.

"This case is a tragedy which has profoundly affected not only the lives of the people involved, but which profoundly affects our system of justice in North Carolina," she said in a statement released by the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

"This case highlights in a most dramatic manner the importance of finding the truth," she continued. "Today, truth has prevailed, but it comes 30 years too late for Sabrina Buie and her family, and for Leon, Henry, and their families. Their sadness, grief and loss will remain with them forever."

63 Comments

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Sep 8, 11:08 a.m.

    Why do many of you think NC "owes them"? It was a jury of their peers that convicted them. It... View More

    — Posted by trose4

    What part of "they didn't do it" are you missing? Do you have an iota of "do unto others as you would have done unto you" in you? These guys were innocent victims...like you would be.

    Pretend that you were just released from Death Row and jail for 30 years for a murder you didn't commit. ...30 years of everyone wanting *you* dead...for the brutal rape & murder of an 11 year-old. Can you imagine?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

  • 678devilish Sep 4, 12:02 p.m.

    They both are free now and I wish them well for the rest of their life.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Sep 3, 3:56 p.m.

    I don't understand why it takes so long to test DNA. I realize there is a tremendous backlog,... View More

    — Posted by In Decisive

    This case was in 1983. DNA testing wasn't being used at that time and didn't become standard... View More

    — Posted by sunneyone2

    ...which is still 20 years ago. And, how do you feel about the false confessions? or convicting someone with diminished (child like?) mental faculties?

  • SFSOLDIER Sep 3, 3:39 p.m.

    DNA testing has been around for a long time. Why has it taken 30 years to figure this one out??

  • jeffjohnson123 Sep 3, 3:08 p.m.

    Let's hope justice finally gets this one right. The legal system isn't flawless, hopefully vigilance will ensure it keeps to a minimum injustice such as this.

  • hardsckull22 Sep 3, 3:05 p.m.

    We all have seen these reversals but nothing is said about the prosecutors and judges that let these errors happen.

  • 68_dodge_polara Sep 3, 2:54 p.m.

    Why do many of you think NC "owes them"? It was a jury of their peers that convicted them. It... View More

    — Posted by trose4

    "there is a lot of "you owe me" going around these days!"

    Oh how true however the justice system pretty much took their entire lives from them do to one or more crooked cops and a prosecutor. If this case doesn't merit compensation than what does?

  • Stilllearnin Sep 3, 2:19 p.m.

    North Carolina is going to have to pay big time to these two brothers. They will deserved it.... View More

    — Posted by 678devilish

    Please tell us how anyone can stop this from happening especially a governor. It really goes to local and county levels.

  • bfortyme Sep 3, 2:06 p.m.

    For all of you !!&@$#% out there, the case should have been overturned simply on its merits and without DNA testing: forced confessions from kids that were denied access to telephone calls, legal help, access to parents, etc. etc. Racism is alive and well in good ole NC.

  • trose4 Sep 3, 1:51 p.m.

    Why do many of you think NC "owes them"? It was a jury of their peers that convicted them. It wasn't NC's fault that the evidence (at the time) was enough for the jury to convict. Seems there is a lot of "you owe me" going around these days!

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