Postscript: Incompetence piled upon injustice
A few years back I wrote about Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two North Carolina men who'd been exonerated after spending 31 years behind bars for a murder they didn't commit. At the time the men were awaiting a pardon from the governor, needed for an award from the state's wrongful conviction compensation statute.
Here's an excerpt from Begging for a pardon: Why some of the wrongfully convicted could go penniless:
The 1983 rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie rocked the small North Carolina town of Red Springs and led quickly to the arrest of two area men – Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.
From there the two brothers, whose IQs once measured in the 50s, withstood a trial and then four years later, retrials.
They spent thirty-one years behind bars — McCollum, on death row — while attorneys pursued allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and pushed for renewed examination of evidence.
In 2009, investigators from the state Innocence Inquiry Commission reopened their case and, after five years of review that included DNA evidence pointing to a different man, concluded the men were innocent.
“It was the most exhaustive investigation I’ve ever seen in a criminal case,” said Ken Rose, one of their attorneys at the time.
The Robeson County District Attorney agreed with the investigators, as did Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser who, after a hearing last September, declared the men innocent and ordered them released immediately.
The men left prison with $45 from the state in their pockets, led to believe that by law they were entitled to, and would soon get, additional compensation for the loss of 31 years of freedom.
But that’s not happening quickly, due to a glitch in the statute requiring them to first be pardoned by the governor.
And that’s where the process overtakes the point.
A month after that piece the governor pardoned the men and, a few months later, an administrative law judge approved a $750,000 payout for each - the maximum they could receive under the compensation statute.
What happened next, sadly, was all too foreseeable -- especially when it came to two men who, given their time spent behind bars, were ill-equipped to manage their own affairs.
Here's writer Joseph Neff in his poignant update on the men's fortunes, appearing in this weekend's New York Times:
Mr. McCollum, 54, and Mr. Brown, 50, proved virtually helpless as hundreds of thousands of dollars of state compensation were siphoned off by their supposed protectors: a sister back home; a lawyer from Orlando, Fla.; a self-proclaimed advocate from Atlanta, and her so-called business partner, a college instructor from Brooklyn, according to documents and interviews by The Marshall Project.
By the time a federal judge intervened in the spring of 2017, no trust had been set up for the brothers and money intended for their care had been spent on predatory loans, exorbitant legal fees, multiple cars, women’s jewelry and children’s toys.
Fortunately, as Neff later points out, the federal judge handling the men's lawsuit agains the local police department has interceded, forcing the creation of trusts to be handled by court-appointed guardians and setting the stage for additional recoveries for McCollum and Brown.