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DNA found on cigarette butt clears men who served 30 years for rape, murder

J. Bradley Smith of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “Should I talk to the police?”

 

Two men imprisoned over 30 years for the 1983 rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl will be freed today after a Robeson County Superior Court judge overturned their convictions.

Discarded Cigarette Charlotte DWI Attorney North Carolina Criminal Defense LawyerRobeson County Prosecutor Johnson Britt told Judge Douglas Sasser that new DNA tests of a cigarette butt found near the victim’s body negated the evidence presented at the men’s trials. Even if the men were granted new trials, Britt said, “The state does not have a case to prosecute.” Britt was not involved in the men’s earlier criminal trials.

After hearing from Britt and other witnesses, Sasser ordered the men to be released.

The men—Henry McCollum and Leon Brown—were just 19 and 15, respectively, at the time of the murder. They alleged that they were coerced into confessing to the crime under pressure from law-enforcement officials. McCollum told the Raleigh News & Observer that he had never been under so much pressure, “with a person hollering at me and threatening me.” He said he made up a story about how he and three other youths attacked and killed the girl so that investigators would let him go home.

No physical evidence connected the men to the crime. DNA found on the cigarette butt in a soybean field near victim Katrina Buie’s body did not match McCollum or Brown, and fingerprints taken from a beer can found at the scene did not match them either. New tests of the cigarette butt matched another man’s DNA. That man is serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that occurred less than a month after Ms. Buie’s killing.

The inmate, who is now 74, told Sharon Stellato, the associate director of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, that Buie used to come to his house and buy cigarettes from him. He admitted seeing Buie the night she disappeared and said he gave her a coat because it was raining. That is why, he said, his DNA may have been at the scene. Stellato said it did not rain the night Buie went missing nor the next night.

She also told the court that the man insisted that McCollum and Brown were not guilty, but denied committing the crime himself. He alleged Buie was alive when he last saw her.

McCollum and Brown were convicted and initially sentenced to death. Those sentences were overturned. McCollum was convicted again at a second trial and sentenced to death, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison.

Ken Rose, an attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham who represented McCollum for twenty years, said it was “terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for thirty years.”

Family members of McCollum and Brown gasped and sobbed as Judge Sasser announced his decision to the packed courtroom. James McCollum—Henry McCollum’s father—told the Associated Press that he had waited years and years for justice. “We kept the faith,” he said.

Still, as a cousin of both men acknowledged, the result was bittersweet for the McCollum, Brown and Buie families.

“There are no winners,” the man said. “They lost somebody, and we lost two people for thirty years.”

Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know need legal assistance, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828   or find additional resources here.

 

 

About the Author

jbradley.jpgBrad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.

Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.

In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.wsoctv.com/news/news/state-regional/2-nc-mens-convictions-overturned-1983-killing/nhDys/

 

 

Image Credit

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