After 30 years two mentally disabled half brothers were declared innocent and ordered released Tuesday by a North Carolina judge.

Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and his brother Leon Brown, 46, were convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl in Red Springs, a small rural town in North Carolina. On Sept. 28, 1983, officers were investigating the murder of Sabrina Buie, who had been raped and suffocated with her underwear stuffed down her throat. At the time McCollum was 19-years-old, while his brother was only 15.

Though DNA evidence did not implicate the brothers to the crime, they both were initially sentenced to death row for murder. Following an additional trial ordered by the State Supreme Court, McCollum was re-sentenced to death, while Brown was only convicted of rape, and his sentence was reduced to life.

Attorneys from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL), a non-profit law firm that provides direct representation to inmates on North Carolina’s death row, worked alongside private law firms and began pressing for DNA testing of the physical evidence.

Following an independent DNA testing by North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, evidence revealed the DNA on the cigarette butt, which was found near the murder, did not match McCollum or Brown. However, it did match Roscoe Artis, a man who confessed to the rape and murder of another 18-year-old girl and lived only a block away from where Buie’s body was found.

James McCollum, the father of Henry, said, “We waited all these long years for this. Thank you, Jesus.”

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