A jury in a North Carolina federal civil rights case has awarded $75 million to two Black, intellectually disabled half brothers who spent decades behind bars after being wrongfully convicted in the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. The eight-person jury on Friday decided Henry McCollum and Leon Brown should received $31 million each in compensatory damages, or $1 million for every year spent in prison, the News & Observer reported. The jury also awarded them $13 million in punitive damages. They were teenagers when they were accused of the crime, which happened in Red Springs in Robeson County. The two were released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence that pointed to a convicted murderer exonerated them, reports the AP.
McCollum and Brown have pursued the civil case against law enforcement members since 2015, arguing that their civil rights were violated during the interrogations that led to their convictions. Attorneys for the men have said they were scared teenagers who had low IQs when they were questioned by police and coerced into confessing. McCollum was then 19, and Brown was 15. Both were convicted and sentenced to death. McCollum spent most of his 31 years in prison on death row, becoming North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate. Brown—who the newspaper reported suffers from mental health conditions related to his time in prison and requires full-time care—had his sentence later changed to life in prison.
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