The two brothers–both of whom are intellectually impaired–spent almost 31 years behind bars after being coerced into confessing to the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
Two North Carolina brothers will receive a $75 million settlement after spending nearly 31 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit.
The News & Observer reports that the men—identified as Henry McCollum and Leon Brown—were convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 1983. Both brothers are intellectually impaired and have IQs which were tested in the 50s.
For years, the men insisted that they were coerced into giving a confession. And for years thereafter, their attorneys insisted that the brothers had been goaded into providing signed confessions they did not understand.
According to the News & Observer, the eight-person trial jury awarded McCollum and Brown $31 million each in compensatory damages–$1 million for each year they had spent in prison.
The jury also awarded an additional $13 million in punitive damages after the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, one of the defendants named in the complaint, settled its part in the case for a further $9 million.
In total, Brown and McCollum received $75 million in damages, plus the additional $9 million, for a grand total of $84 million.
“I thank God,” McCollum said in an emotional statement outside the courthouse.
McCollum and Brown, says the News & Observer, spent the moments following the settlement embracing their attorneys from the Washington, D.C.-based Hogan Lovells law firm, who represented the brothers in their years-long fight for justice.
“The first jury to hear all 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 date,” said attorney Elliot Abrams, who helped fight the brothers’ case.
The Associated Press notes that McCollum and Brown were released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence exonerated them.
The brothers, who are Black, had initially been picked up by police in 1983, based off rumors they may have been involved in a young girl’s rape and murder.
North Carolina then prosecuted both men on the basis of their written confessions—confessions which had been written by law enforcement officers, and which the brothers had then been pressured to sign.
McCollum spent most of his 31-year sentence on death row, while Brown’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison. They filed suit shortly after their 2014 exoneration.
“For more than 37 years, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown have waited for recognition of the grave injustice that law enforcement inflicted upon them,” the men’s legal team said in a post-settlement press conference. “Today, a jury did just that, and have finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter in their lives.”