DNA was the reason for the acquittal of two men sentenced to death

Henry McCollum is surrounded by guards as he sits in a courtroom, Tuesday in Lumberton, N.C.

LUMBERTON, N.C.—New DNA evidence has freed a death-row inmate and his half-brother after they spent three decades in prison for rape and murder.
A judge overturned the convictions of Henry McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, after another man’s DNA was discovered on a cigarette butt left near the body of a girl the siblings were convicted of killing in 1983. Tuesday’s ruling is the latest twist in a notorious legal case that began with what defence attorneys said were coerced confessions from two scared teenagers with low IQs. McCollum was 19 at the time and Brown was 15.
Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser said the new DNA results contradicted the case prosecutors put forward.
He said he was vacating their convictions and ordering their release “based on significant new evidence that they are, in fact, innocent.”
The DNA from the cigarette butts doesn’t match Brown or McCollum, and fingerprints taken from a beer can at the scene aren’t theirs either, attorneys say. No physical evidence connects them to the crime.
Both were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.
Family members of the men gasped and some sobbed as the judge announced his decision to the packed courtroom. Brown smiled and shook a defence lawyer’s hand and McCollum looked spent and relieved
“We waited years and years,” said James McCollum, Henry McCollum’s father. “We kept the faith.”

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