Professor Mark Rabil talks with WFDD about pardons of McCollum and Brown by Governor McCrory

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Professor Mark Rabil, director of the Wake Forest Law Innocence and Justice Clinic, was interviewed by on Thursday, June 4 regarding the pardons by Gov. Pat McCrory of two brothers who spent three decades behind bars and faced the death penalty.

Gov. Pat McCrory has pardoned two men who had been wrongly convicted in the rape and killing of a young girl.

Henry McCollum spent 31 years on death row, and his half-brother Leon Brown, just 15 at the time of his arrest, also spent three decades behind bars and also faced the death penalty for a time.

McCollum and Brown were convicted in a Robeson County court in connection with the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie, whose body was found in a soybean field in 1983.

DNA evidence eventually cleared the men, and they were freed in September. Mark Rabil, a Wake Forest law professor and director of the school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic, was in the courtroom at the time. He says the case was complicated, which may explain why it took nine months to go from exoneration to pardon.

“Every case is a little different,” he says. “This one had two defendants exonerated. There was not a confession by the person they think really did it, so there’s an ongoing investigation about him.”

By comparison, Rabil says it took about two months for Darryl Hunt to be pardoned after he was exonerated in the notorious Winston-Salem rape and murder of Deborah Sykes. Willard E. Brown was eventually convicted in Sykes’ death and is now in prison.

In the Sabrina Buie case, DNA evidence points to another suspect who is currently serving a life sentence for a similar crime that happened less than a month after she was murdered.

McCollum and Brown both confessed at the time. Defense attorneys say they were scared teenagers with low IQs who were coerced into saying they did it. Rabil says that’s not unusual.

“Ten to 20 percent of those people who are exonerated made false confessions. A lot of those people pled guilty,” Rabil says. “To most of us – even defense lawyers – it’s shocking that people confess to things they didn’t do.”

Now that they have been pardoned, McCollum and Brown can claim up to $750,000 in compensation for the wrongful conviction.