A day after a judge declared Leon Brown and Henry McCollum innocent and ordered their release after 30 years behind bars for a rape and murder they didn't commit, the half-brothers finally walked out of prisons in North Carolina yesterday. McCollum, 50 embraced his parents as soon as he was free. "I just thank God that I'm out of this place," he told reporters. "They took 30 years away from me for no reason, but I don't hate them. I don't hate them one bit," he added. McCollum, the state's longest-serving death row inmate, was so unfamiliar with the world outside prison that a cameraman had to help him get his seat belt on before he departed, the Los Angeles Times reports.
DNA evidence cleared both men, who were teenagers at the time of the 1983 killing. Brown, 46, was freed from a different prison yesterday and the pair embraced surrounded by cheering family members when they were reunited at a sister's home in Fayetteville, reports the Charlotte Observer. Both men, who are mentally disabled, will face huge challenges readjusting to the outside world, but may be in line for payments of up to $750,000 each. "A long time ago, I wanted to find me a good wife, I wanted to raise a family, I wanted to have my own business and everything," McCollum said in an interview last week. "I never got a chance to realize those dreams. Now I believe that God is going to bless me to get back out there." On his first day of freedom, he said he wanted to take a long bath—and "to go to sleep and wake up the next day and see all this is real." But although he is now free, he believes other innocent men are still on North Carolina's death row. "It hurt me the most to see the state take somebody's life, when they are committing murder their own self," he tells the AP. "But they don't see it that way." (Read more North Carolina stories.)