WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory granted pardons on Thursday to two brothers who served more than 30 years in prison each for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl before they were declared innocent of the crime last year.
A judge ordered Henry McCollum and his half brother, Leon Brown, to be freed from incarceration in September after DNA tests linked the 1983 killing of Sabrina Buie to another man.
McCrory said while it was difficult to know for certain the events surrounding the girl's death in the town of Red Springs, he was convinced after a nine-month review that McCollum and Brown deserved "pardons of innocence."
"It's the right thing to do," the Republican governor said in a statement.
At the time of his release from prison, McCollum was North Carolina's longest-serving inmate on death row.
Brown and McCollum were 15 and 19, respectively, when they signed confessions to the murder written by police. Court records show the men are intellectually disabled with limited abilities to read or write, and they later claimed they had been coerced into the admissions of guilt.
None of the DNA collected at the scene was linked to Brown or McCollum.
With their names cleared, the men will now be eligible to receive up to $750,000 from the state for wrongful imprisonment.
Ken Rose, a senior attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which represented McCollum, said more should be done.
"We must re-examine a system that let an innocent man sit on death row for 30 years," Rose said. "How many more innocent people are still awaiting execution?"
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Sandra Maler)