Robeson County brothers freed after 30 years in prison

Leon Brown. Photo provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety

A North Carolina judge has overturned the convictions of two men who have served 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl after another man's DNA was recently discovered on evidence in the case.

Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser ordered the immediate release Tuesday of Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46. The two half-brothers were convicted of the rape and killing of an 11-year-old girl in 1983 in the Red Springs community of Robeson County

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation filed a Motion for Relief on behalf of the men saying DNA evidence supports their claims of innocence in the rape and death of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie and point instead to the guilt of another man who committed a similar crime in Robeson County less than a month after Buie died.

That man is currently serving a life sentence for that rape and murder.

In October 1984, McCollum, then 19, and Brown, then 15, were tried together in Robeson County and convicted of First Degree Murder and Rape and sentenced to death, according to court documents.

Brown was re-tried in 1992 and the Murder charge against him was dismissed, but he was again convicted of First Degree Rape and sentenced to life in prison.

McCollum remained on death row.

The Center for Death Penalty argued that the brothers' convictions relied almost exclusively on evidence in their coerced confessions. It says the men have never been linked to the scene of the crime by a single piece of objective physical evidence.

The newly discovered evidence refutes facts contained in their confessions and points to the guilt of another person, according to the Center for Death Penalty.

The center says a cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime, which the state alleged was smoked by the murderer, is inconsistent with the DNA profile developed from samples provided by McCollum and Brown.

We will continue posting updates on this case as more information becomes available.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.