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A jury in North Carolina has awarded $75 million to two Black men with intellectual disabilities who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 1983, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
An eight-person jury awarded half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who each spent 31 years in jail for a crime they did not commit, $31 million each, $1 million for every year they spent in prison. The jury also awarded them $13 million in punitive damages after the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, one of the defendants in the civil suit, settled part of the lawsuit for $9 million.
According to The Washington Post, the award is the highest combined verdict in U.S. history in a wrongful conviction case and is the largest ever personal injury award in North Carolina.
“The first jury to hear all of the 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,” Elliot S. Abrams, an attorney representing the brothers, told News & Observer. “The jury could not have sent a stronger message that the citizens of this country will not tolerate law enforcement misconduct and will no longer blindly believe the testimony of law enforcement over that of marginalized people.”
McCollum and Brown were both teenagers when they signed confessions they say they did not understand. Both brothers are intellectually disabled, with IQs in the 50’s. They alleged that law enforcement officers coerced them into confessing and fabricated evidence.
McCollum was sentenced to death, becoming the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina’s death row. Brown was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2014, they were both released from prison after DNA evidence placed convicted murderer Roscoe Artis at the scene of the crime. Both brothers received full pardons in 2015.
“For more than 37 years, Henry and Leon have waited for recognition of the grave injustice that law enforcement inflicted upon them,” Abrams told News & Observer. “Today, a jury did just that, and have finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter in their lives.”