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US judge overturns 30-year rape, murder convictions of mentally impaired men

A US judge has exonerated two mentally impaired brothers who were wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. One of the men had languished on death row for three decades.

After examining new DNA evidence, a judge in the US state of North Carolina on Tuesday overturned the convictions of Henry Lee McCollum (pictured above) and Leon Brown (below), who were sentenced to death row in 1984 for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie.

The two African American men were teenagers when they were arrested for the rape and murder in 1983. After their trial, they said that police had duped them into signing the murder confessions that led to their convictions.

McCollum has an IQ of 60, while Brown has an IQ of 49. A person is generally considered to be mentally disabled when they have an IQ of under 70, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Leon Brown Interview Archiv 26.08.2014

Leon Brown

"I'd never been under such pressure, people yelling and screaming at me," McCollum, now 50, said of his interrogation. "I was scared and was just trying to get out of that police station and go home."

McCollum was the longest-serving death row inmate in North Carolina. Brown's death sentence had been reduced to life in prison in 1992, after his murder conviction was thrown out as the result of a retrial.

DNA evidence

The #link:http://www.innocencecommission-nc.gov/North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission# had unearthed new DNA evidence at the crime scene belonging to a man named Roscoe Artis, who is currently on death row for another rape and murder.

With the DNA evidence contradicting Brown and McCollum's confessions, the judge freed the brothers three decades after their convictions.

"This case highlights in a most dramatic manner the importance of finding the truth," said Ann Kirby, the attorney for Brown.

"Today, truth has prevailed, but it comes 30 years too late for Sabrina Buie and her family, and for Leon, Henry, and their families," Kirby continued.

'More such cases'

Richard Dieter, executive director of the #link:http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC)#, said that capital punishment should be abolished in order to ensure that innocent people are not executed.

"The conviction and sentencing to death of two black teenagers with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation), based almost entirely on shaky confessions obtained under extreme duress, sounds like a case from another era," Dieter said in a statement.

"It would be naïve to assume there are no more such cases among the thousands of inmates who remain on death row, or that similar mistakes weren't made among the nearly 1,400 people who have been executed," he added.

slk/jr (AFP)

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