In September 1983, the body of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie was found in a soybean field in Red Springs, North Carolina. The young girl had been raped and murdered, with her underwear stuffed down her throat.
Shortly after the discovery, on September 28, 1983, two teenage brothers with mental handicaps were picked up by police and questioned about the girls’ death. Henry McCollum, then 19, and his younger half-brother Leon Brown, then 15, were each eventually convicted of the murder and rape and sentenced to death row.
The only evidence against the brothers were their own confessions, which they soon retracted and would say were coerced. NBC News reported that attorneys for the men said the two were scared teenagers with low IQs whose confessions were coerced. The two spent 31 years in prison, with McCollum on death row and Brown eventually getting his sentence changed to life in prison. Brown also reportedly needs full-time care due to mental health conditions he now suffers from due to his incarceration.
In 2014, the two men were finally released from prison after DNA evidence “implicated another man whose possible involvement had been somehow overlooked by the authorities even though he lived only a block from where the victim’s body was found, and he had admitted to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time,” The New York Times reported at the time.
The release of the two men brought up old wounds for Sabrina Buie’s family. Her younger sister, Tenita, told WTVD in 2014 that it “feels like hell.”
“It feels like I’m trapped in hell and can’t get out cause I’m wondering now will she be forgotten,” she added.
Seven years later, a jury in North Carolina has awarded each of the brothers $31 million in compensatory damages — $1 million for each year they spent in prison. In addition, the two were awarded $13 million in punitive damages, the News & Observer reported.
“The first jury to hear all of the evidence — including the wrongly suppressed evidence — found Henry and Leon to be innocent, found them to have been demonstrably and excruciatingly wronged, and has done what the law can do to make it right at this late date,” Raleigh attorney Elliot Abrams said after the verdict, according to NBC.
“On Friday, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, one of the defendants, settled its part of the case for $9 million. The town of Red Springs, originally named in the civil suit, settled in 2017 for $1 million,” the outlet reported. “Friday’s judgment came against former SBI agents Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead, who were part of the original investigation.”
The amount of money the brothers received is much larger than victims of wrongful convictions typically receive.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, a Maryland man who spent nearly 19 years in prison for an attempted murder he did not commit won $1.6 million in compensation last month. In February 2020, the widow of a man who killed himself after being falsely accused of murder won $6 million.
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