Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two brothers from Red Springs, North Carolina who spent decades in prison for a crime they did not commit, have finally received a $75 million settlement more than 6 years after they were exonerated.
A jury recently decided that the half-brothers should receive $1 million each for every year spent behind bars, which is equivalent to $31 million each in compensatory damages, as well as $13 million in punitive damages.
The settlement ends the decades-long wait for justice to be fully served for the two. Elliot Abrams, one of their attorneys, said in a statement that “a jury… has finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter of their lives. They look forward to a brighter future surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones.”
McCollum and Brown filed a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement in 2015, a year after they were exonerated. They were released from prison after DNA evidence pointed a different suspect, ultimately proving their innocence.
The two has maintained their innocence ever since they were arrested in 1983 for a rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. McCollum, who was then 19-years old, and Brown, who was then 15-years old, reportedly had low IQs when they were questioned by police and coerced into confessing.
They were both convicted and sentenced to death. Both spent 31 years in prison, with McCollum being North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate as Brown’s sentence was eventually reduced to life in prison.
The recent $75 million settlement is considered significant because not all exonerees in the United States have been awarded compensation. The two expressed their relief since their release.
“I’ve got my freedom,” McCollum told The News & Observer. “There’s still a lot of innocent people in prison today. And they don’t deserve to be there.”