Two African-American half-brothers have been exonerated of rape and murder after more than 30 years behind bars in North Carolina. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were found guilty in 1984 of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. There was no physical evidence tying them to the crime, but police obtained confessions that McCollum and Brown have always said were coerced. Police at the time failed to investigate another man, Roscoe Artis, who lived near the crime scene and had admitted to a similar rape and murder at around the same time. After three decades, the case saw a major breakthrough last month when testing by North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission tied Artis’ DNA to the crime scene. After a hearing presenting the new evidence Tuesday, the two brothers were declared innocent and ordered freed. Over the years, death penalty supporters have cited the brothers’ case in order to back capital punishment. In 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party pasted McCollum’s mug shot on campaign mailers. In 1994, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointed to McCollum as an example of why the death penalty is just.
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