Two mentally disabled half-brothers in North Carolina have spent the last 30 years locked up for a murder they didn't commit, DNA evidence has revealed. Leon Brown and Henry McCollum were 15 and 19 years old, respectively, in 1983 when they were arrested for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in the small town of Red Springs. Both were sentenced to death on the basis of confessions they later said were coerced, though the younger teen's sentence was later reduced to life. They were exonerated yesterday based on DNA evidence that clears them of any link to the crime scene—and implicates a known sex offender who lived just a block from where the girl's body was found, the New York Times reports.
A judge declared the men, now 46 and 50, innocent and ordered them released. "It's terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for 30 years. Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution," McCollum's lawyer says. "He would become so distraught he had to be put in isolation. It's impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost." Police in Red Springs are accused not only of framing the pair, but of hiding boxes of crucial evidence until just last month, the Guardian notes. Roscoe Artis, the 74-year-old man whose DNA was found in a cigarette butt at the crime scene, is already in prison, serving a life sentence for raping and murdering an 18-year-old girl less than a month after Buie's killing, reports the BBC. (Read more exoneration stories.)