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North Carolina jury awards two men wrongfully sent to death row $75M

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 News & Observer reports that an eight-person jury decided after around five hours of deliberation on Friday that half brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown should be awarded $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.

Outside the courtroom, McCollum said, "I thank God," the Observer reports.

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Lawyers for McCollum and Brown believe this settlement may be the largest for a wrongful conviction case in North Carolina's history.

The judgement on Friday was made against former North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agents Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead, the Observer reports, who were both part of the original 1983 investigation that resulted in the wrongful conviction of McCollum and Brown.

McCollum and Brown were both teenagers when they signed confessions they say they did not understand. Both brothers are intellectually disabled, the newspaper reports, with IQs in the 50's. They alleged that law enforcement officers coerced them into confessing and fabricated evidence.

They were sentenced to death in 1984 after their first trial was over. McCollum ended up becoming North Carolina's longest-serving death row inmate over the 31 years he was imprisoned.

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 McCollum and Leon Brown have waited for recognition of the grave injustice that law enforcement inflicted upon them,” the attorneys representing the two brothers said, according to the Observer. “Today, a jury did just that, and have finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter in their lives.”