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June 14, 2021

$9M settlement for two men wrongfully sent to death row

RALEIGH (AP) — Lawyers representing two former North Carolina sheriff’s deputies agreed on Friday to a $9 million settlement with two intellectually disabled half brothers who spent decades behind bars after being wrongfully convicted in the 1983 killing of an 11-year-old girl.

The lawyers for former Robeson County Sheriff’s Office deputies James Locklear and Kenneth Sealey agreed in federal court to the settlement with Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who will split the settlement between them, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

County Attorney Rob Davis said in an email to the newspaper that the insurance companies that cover the sheriff’s office will pay the settlement.

The settlement ends half of the civil case. Lawyers representing two former N.C. State Bureau of Investigation agents have not settled, and closing arguments in the civil case were set to continue for that part of the case on Friday.

The town of Red Springs, originally named in the civil suit, settled in 2017 for $1 million.

McCollum and Brown, who are both Black, have pursued a civil case since 2015 against law enforcement members behind their wrongful convictions, arguing that their civil rights were violated during the interrogations that led to their convictions.

McCollum and Brown were released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence exonerated them. They were teenagers when they were accused in 1983 of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Red Springs in northern Robeson County.

The half brothers were originally questioned by police on the basis of a rumor that they might have been involved in the crime. The state then built its case against McCollum and Brown on the basis of confessions that law enforcement officers wrote out and had the half brothers sign. Both were convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of those confessions.

McCollum spent most of his 31 years in prison on death row, becoming North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate. Brown’s sentence was later changed to life in prison.

A Robeson County judge threw out their convictions in 2014 after DNA evidence pointed to another convicted murderer, Roscoe Artis, who in 1983 lived in a house next to where the victim in the McCollum-Brown case was found.

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