Two North Carolina men who were wrongfully convicted in a rape and murder of an 11-year-old were awarded $75 million total in compensatory damages Friday, according to the Associated Press.
Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who each spent 31 years in jail for a crime they did not commit, were each awarded $1 million for every year spent in prison. In addition to the $31 million each, the eight-person jury awarded them $13 million in punitive damages, the News & Observer reports.
McCollum and Brown are half-brothers, who had low IQs when they were questioned by police about the incident. McCollum was 19 and Brown was 15. McCollum was sentenced to death, becoming the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina’s death row. Brown was sentenced to life in prison.
More than three decades after they were convicted of the rape and death of Sabrina Buie in 1983, new DNA evidence showed another man was responsible.
The two were coerced into confessing to Buie’s rape and murder, their judge vacated their convictions and they were released from prison.in 2015, when a
Governor Pat McCrory granted them pardons and they were each awarded $750,000 for the time they spent behind bars.
Shortly after, the brothers began pursuing a federal civil rights case, according to the News & Observer. Their lawyers argued that law enforcement coerced confessions, suppressed and fabricated evidence, investigated the crime in bad faith, and ignored evidence that linked to another suspect.
On Friday, jurors deliberated for five hours before deciding to award the brothers the $75 million settlement, which lawyers believe is the largest amount awarded for a wrongful conviction case in the state’s history.
The moment was emotional for the brothers. “I’ve got my freedom,” McCollum said. “There’s still a lot of innocent people in prison today. And they don’t deserve to be there.”