News US death-row inmates awarded $96 million damages for wrongful convictions

US death-row inmates awarded $96 million damages for wrongful convictions

Henry McCollum, pictured on his release in 2014, spent most of his 31 years in prison on death row. Photo: AP
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A jury in North Carolina has awarded $US75 million ($96 million) to two half-brothers who spent decades behind bars after being wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.

The eight-person jury on Friday decided Henry McCollum and Leon Brown should received $US31 million ($40 million) each in compensatory damages – $US1 million ($1.3 million) for every year they spent in prison.

The jury also awarded them $US13 million ($17 million) in punitive damages.

“The first jury to hear all of the evidence, including the wrongly suppressed evidence, found Henry and Leon to be innocent,” Raleigh attorney Elliot Abrams said after the trial.

“(It) found them to have been demonstrably and excruciatingly wronged, and has done what the law can do to make it right at this late date.”

The brothers’ legal team issued a statement adding “a jury … has finally given Henry and Leon the ability to close this horrific chapter of their lives”.

“They look forward to a brighter future surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones,” the statement said.

McCollum and Brown have pursued the civil case since 2015, arguing their civil rights were violated during the interrogations that led to their convictions.

The two were released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence that pointed to a convicted murderer exonerated them.

They were teenagers when they were accused of the 1983 crime.

Attorneys for the men have said they were scared teenagers with low intelligence 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 local News & Observer 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.