Death Penalty

Mentally-Disabled Men Sent to Death Row 30 Years Ago By World's "Deadliest Prosecutor" Found Innocent

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Two North Carolina men who were convicted of the brutal rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 1983 were exonerated yesterday after new DNA evidence proved their innocence. 

The men, Henry Lee "Buddy" McCollum and Leon Brown, are stepbrothers. McCollum, 19 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to death and spent 30 years on North Carolina's death row, making him one of the longest serving death row prisoners in the state. Brown, 15 at the time of the crime, was also sentenced to death but was later retried and sentenced to life in prison. Both men are considered mentally disabled—McCollum's IQ is between 60 and 69 and Brown's IQ is 49.

Recent DNA testing of a cigarette butt found near the scene of the crime implicated convicted rapist and murderer Roscoe Artis, who lived a few hundred feet from the field where the body of the 11-year-old victim, Sabrina Buie, was found. Artis is currently on death row in North Carolina for the rape and murder of 18-year-old Joann Brockmann—a crime he committed less than a month after McCollum and Brown were arrested. Despite the fact that both murders were carried out in a similar way (both girls were raped, asphyxiated, and left in fields), within a month of one another, and in a town of roughly 4,000 people, Artis was never even considered as a suspect in the Buie murder.

No physical or forensic evidence tied either McCollum or Brown to the crime. Instead, their convictions were largely based on confessions written by police, which the men signed. In a recent video interview with Raleigh's The News & Observer, McCollum said, "I just made up a story and gave it to them so they would let me go home."

According to the Innocence Project, roughly 30 percent of defendants exonerated by DNA evidence gave false confessions, falsely incriminated themselves, or pled guilty to crimes they did not commit.

Both men later recanted their confessions and said they were coerced. At his trial, McCollum recanted his confession 226 times.

The prosecutor on the case, Joe Freeman Britt, who was once listed in Guinness World Records as the "deadliest prosecutor" after winning 46 death row cases. Known for his theatrics in court, Britt famously held the courtroom in a silence for five minutes during McCollum and Brown's trial to emphasize how long it took Buie to suffocate.

World's "Deadliest Prosecutor"

McCollum and Brown's innocence was proven only after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state agency established in 2006 "to investigate and evaluate post-conviction claims of factual innocence," decided to take on their cases.

Before then, McCollum and Brown's guilt was never questioned. Indeed, McCollum was even used as an example by United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to justify the death penalty. In 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party sent around campaign mailers containing McCollum's mug shot before the state's general election, attacking state Democrat's support for the Racial Justice Act.

Now retired, Britt told The News Observer last Friday he still has no doubts over the men's guilt. "You find a cigarette, you say it has Roscoe Artis' DNA on it, but so what? It's just a cigarette, and absent some direct connection to the actual killing, what have you got? Do you have exoneration? I don't think so," said the man whose prosecution relied solely on confessions written by police and signed by mentally disabled teenagers.

Defense attorneys say McCollum was the last person prosecuted by the "deadliest prosecutor" who remained on death row.

According to The New York Times, McCollum and Brown's release from prison "provided one of the most dramatic examples yet of the potential harm from false, coerced confessions and of the power of DNA tests to exonerate the innocent." I'd go a step further and argue their innocence (or at least McCollum's) demonstrates, once again, just how broken the death penalty is in the United States. Isn't it time for it to just die already?

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93 responses to “Mentally-Disabled Men Sent to Death Row 30 Years Ago By World's "Deadliest Prosecutor" Found Innocent

  1. McCollum was even used as an example by United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to justify the death penalty.

    And New Professionalism.

  2. Nice to see that jackass took his responsibilities and the solemn nature of doing justice seriously. Nothing says “I respect the awesome responsibilities of my job” like strutting around on a magazine cover. What a disgrace.

    1. He’s a selfless civil servant John.

      1. He is out there doing God’s work in America’s toughest neighborhoods.

    2. People like that make me ashamed to be human.

    3. Never underestimate mans ability to be evil given the right incentives.

    4. It’s such a douchey picture too.

      In his mind he “won” the case and that’s all that matters. How we got through the McMartin pre-school fiasco (complete with TV movie with James Woods) without massive reform of prosecutor’s offices I’ll never know.

    5. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But not in this case.

  3. You know who else wanted to lock up and kill the mentally disabled?

    1. You know who else should have been the third or fourth of his contemporaries to have been locked up and killed, after, of course, Roosevelt and Truman and Eisenhower and Churchill and Stalin.

      1. You honestly think Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower are worse than Hitler? Stop it Mike. Really, just stop it.

        1. John, take off the propaganda blinders.

          Why turn a blind eye to the murder of hundreds of thousands of German POWs upon Eisenhower’s orders?

          Why turn a blind eye to Ike’s role in the Bonus March debacle of 1932?

          Why turn a blind eye to the roles played by the troika of Roosevelt, Truman and Ike in helping to orchestrate the implementation of the Iron curtain?

          There were and are hundreds of millions of Eastern Europeans who would agree far more with my sentiments.

          1. There was a lot of bad shit that went down after the war, that’s for sure, and all at the hands of the allies. It has mostly been lost in all the Greatest Generation celebrations and hyperbole.

            Not saying it’s equivalent to the atrocities of the Nazi’s.

            1. Well, since the Allies includes the Soviets, and they killed something like 3x as many people as the Nazis, I think it’s at least equivalent.

              But Stalin being worse than Hitler (like Nikki) doesn’t necessarily mean Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower are as well. Though I probably wouldn’t piss on any of them if they were alive once again, and also on fire.

            2. It has mostly been lost in all the Greatest Generation celebrations and hyperbole.”

              99.9% of those of the Greatest Generation we celebrate had no knlolwdge of, or connection to, those bad things that happened.

              I wonder if Liberty Mike’s grandfather or great grandfather, were one of those American POWs held by the Soviets and the deal to swap prisoners wasn’t made, would he be on the other side of this issue ?

              1. I wonder if Liberty Mike’s grandfather or great grandfather, were one of those American POWs held by the Soviets and the deal to swap prisoners wasn’t made, would he be on the other side of this issue ?

                American POW’s held by the Soviets? Are you talking about WW2 or Korea?

          2. I’m pretty sure that while Eastern Europeans often are resentful of being left to be USSR puppets for 45 years, they generally do not despise Roosevelt or Truman more than a man that slaughtered millions of them, and intended to either kill or deport the vast majority of the population of Eastern Europe east of the Urals. The false equivalency here is absurd – one doesn’t have to think FDR, Truman, or Eisenhower were saints, or even good, to acknowledge that they are not comparable to someone like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.

            1. No, your general, undifferentiated asseveration that I am making a false equivalency, without more, is, itself, absurd.

              Its just not the raw numbers, its that the mass murders were committed by those who claimed to be fighting for liberty and peace and that they represented the side of civilization.

              Thus, given that American presidents and military swine have a rich history of perpetrating mass murder, any attempts to contextualize, minimize, rationalize or relativize the same amounts to intellectual fraud.

              1. Can you cite proof of this?

          3. What Calidisident said. You are just nuts Mike.

            1. John, do you think that I am just making stuff up about Eisenhower and what he did?

              How about the words of Col. Ernest F. Fischer, Phd, Senior Historian of the United States Army:

              “Starting in April 1945, the United States Army and the French Army casually annihilated one million [German] men, most of them in American camps…. Eisenhower’s hatred, passed through the lens of a compliant military bureaucracy, produced the horror of death camps, unequalled by anything in American history… an enormous war crime.”

              1. Hilter murdered 13 million people and enslaved millions more while trying to conquer and enslave the all of Europe as an encore.

                And the allies did not murder a million German POWs. The POW death rate in US and UK camps was less than 5%. You are just repeating lies. Where do you get this crap? You might as well be telling me Eisenhower was an alien.

                Do yourself a favor and stop reading Lew Rockwell and Pat Buchanan.

              2. Mike, I don’t know where you got that quote but it is a complete fabrication. It just didn’t happen. Jesus Christ, if it did, don’t you think maybe the Soviets would have used it as propaganda? Somehow this happened but the entire anti American left never noticed it?

                Just stop it.

                1. Eisenhower refused to classify the German POWs as prisoners of war, as he was required to do so under the Geneva Convention.

                  Instead, Ike came up with a new classification for the German POWs, “designating them as disarmed enemy personnel” and thereby, in the words of Willis A. Carto, “adopting the doubletalk of a pettifogging shyster lawyer and in his mind justifying the crime.”

                  Have you ever read Herbert L. Brown’s book, The Devil’s Handiwork: A Victim’s View of “Allied” War Crimes?

                  How about James Bacque’s book, Other Losses: An Investigation Into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners?

                  1. I know several German civilians and POWs in my family who lived through this, I can confirm that post-WWII conditions in Germany were horrible, with widespread hunger, disease, and death; I can also tell you that they did not consider this “allied war crimes”.

                    Bacque’s work is, of course, popular with people who harbor anti-American sentiments, including German Neo-Nazis, European intellectuals and the US left. What’s your motivation?

                2. Upon Germany’s surrender in May of 1945, Ike made it a crime, punishable by death, to feed German POWs.

                  According to Bacque, between 1945-50. 1.5 to 2 million German POWs under American control died of starvation, exposure to the elements and other diseases borne of life in the camps without shelter and food.

                  John, you can yell and scream that it is all a lie all you want but that does not change the facts.

                  Have you ever heard of Operation Keelhaul? Perhaps you will begin to see why the Soviets, under Stalin, did not make use of this for propaganda purposes.

                  1. LM I had never even heard of this so I skimmed over some Wiki pages about the topic. If something like this happened I can’t imagine how it could be kept under wraps for so long. There would have had to have been thousands of rank and file soldiers involved to carry this out.

                    I’m in disbelief.

                    In my hometoen of Victoria, Texas there was a German POW camp. The German POWs were treated so well that many of them didn’t go back to Germany when they could have. There was a large German immigrant population inn Victoria as that region of Texas was a central area for immigration in the 1800s. My family was one of them. There were stories of a few of the POWs actually drinking beer in local beer joints after the war but before beinging officially released.

                    Why would an administration be so two faced toward POWs ?

                    Also… chemtrails cause Golbal Warming.

                    1. German immigration specifically

                    2. Unlike LM, I don’t think it was murder, exactly.
                      They weren’t put in front of firing squads,they were just allowed to starve.(the chemtrails made me post this.)

          4. “Why turn a blind eye to the roles played by the troika of Roosevelt, Truman and Ike in helping to orchestrate the implementation of the Iron curtain?”

            Helping to orchestrate? They gave Stalin nothing in Eastern Europe. What they did was acknowledge what Stalin had already seized for himself, because there was no physical capacity to do anything about it.

          5. That FDR, Eisenhower, and Truman were bad does not place them on the same level a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. There are degrees, and forgetting that is a great way of undermining your own arguments.

            On the other hand, it is just as big an error to say that because one side is evil, the other side must be good.

          6. Why turn a blind eye to Ike’s role in the Bonus March debacle of 1932?

            Hitler wasn’t even in power in 1932 and there was no war. Is the rest of your history that faulty?

    2. Democrats?

      1. That was in the old days. Now they just want to buy their votes.

    1. Goddammit, they changed the headline. It used to say ‘Obama Vows To ‘Degrade And Destroy’ ISIS.’

  4. I think we should get rid of the death penalty for two reasons:

    1. It behaves like a slot machine. Some people do some people don’t.
    2. Every month or so I hear of cases like this one. How many people (mostly black) have been railroaded?

    Keep in mind tht Project Innocent only caters to death row people. How many people not on death row are innocent?

    1. Your name, redundant it is

    2. You can’t even get the name right? It’s the Innocence Project. And they’ve worked with plenty of people not on Death Row.

      1. Looking it up, they’ve had 317 exonerations, 18 of which on death row.

      2. It’s Alice Bowie. Expect nothing but derp.

        1. It is? I thought this was a new troll.

          I’m usually much better than this at finding socks.

          1. I’m about 90% certain at this point.

    3. You mean, government programs don’t really work as advertised? Shocking.

    4. The fact that it behaves like a slot machine is a valid point. Instead of using the death penalty as a deterrence we use it as a revenge mechanism for crimes that make us really angry. You get the death penalty for things like crimes against children, multiple murders or particularly cruel murders. In practice that means people juries really hate get the death penalty. That really isn’t a very good way to do justice.

      But it doesn’t have to be that way. The better way would be to give the death penalty automatically for a few select crimes; namely killing a witness to a crime or killing a clearly identified law enforcement officer in the performance of his duty. It has been shown that countries that have the automatic death penalty for killing witnesses to a crime have fewer murders and less violent robberies and such because criminals never want to make an ordinary crime into a capitol offense. Same is true of killing LEOs. And making it automatic would take away the slot machine element you mention and actually have a deterrent effect.

      The reason why the death penalty as it is currently administered in this country doesn’t have a deterrent effect is because it is as you say a slot machine. It is not certain or swift enough to deter crime.

    5. You don’t know anything about the amazing and tireless work of the Innocence Project, do you?

      And you only hear about cases like this every month? You seriously don’t know anything about the Innocence Project. I get updates form them in my email and on my Facebook feed just about every day.

    6. How many people (mostly black) have been railroaded?”

      None that had money.

      It’s not a matter of skin color. It’s a matter of money for lawyers. OJ’s case should prove this beyond doubt.

      In our criminal justice system you are innocent unless proven BROKE, not black.

    7. Don’t forget that female murderers are spared the death penalty as well.

  5. The prosecutor on the case, Joe Freeman Britt

    I am willing to suspend my opposition to the death penalty for men such as this. “Attempted Murder Under Color of Authority” should always and everywhere be a capital offense.

    1. I think it would be more amusing to have him serve the cumulative time served by those falsely convicted by him – consecutively, of course. And in the general inmate population.

      1. Ain’t life a motherfucker!

  6. Guys like this are why I wish I believed in the existence of Hell. Because I’d damn sure feel better if I thought this asshole of a DA was going to suffer for all eternity.

  7. Men Sent to Death Row 30 Years Ago

    This “death row’ of yours….?

    …i’ve had bouts of hayfever more deadly. methinks a brand-name-change is in order. “Like ‘Rape Row’, but Lonelier”?

  8. Recent DNA testing of a cigarette butt found near the scene of the crime implicated convicted rapist and murderer Roscoe Artis, who lived a few hundred feet from the field where the body of the 11-year-old victim, Sabrina Buie, was found. Artis is currently on death row in North Carolina for the rape and murder of 18-year-old Joann Brockmann?a crime he committed less than a month after McCollum and Brown were arrested. Despite the fact that both murders were carried out in a similar way (both girls were raped, asphyxiated, and left in fields), within a month of one another, and in a town of roughly 4,000 people, Artis was never even considered as a suspect in the Buie murder.

    This is another case which exposes prosecutorial immunity for the utter farce and offense to justice that it is. Because this prosecutor, who was so fearless (read: reckless) in carrying out his duties, not only were two innocent men deprived of decades of their lives and had their reputations destroyed, but another innocent person was murdered. And the man at the center of this maelstrom of tragedy and injustice, Joe Freeman Britt, still refuses to acknowledge that he prosecuted the wrong people.

    1. Joe Freeman Britt, still refuses to acknowledge that he prosecuted the wrong people.

      He enjoys Prosecutorial Infallibility.

    2. Well if he did acknowledge that, he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night. You wouldn’t want that, would you? I mean, that’s like not wanting police officers to go home safe at night.

      1. The prospect of one or both bothers me very little.

        1. Very little? With me it is nonexistent.

    3. In a truly just world, Britt would be tried as (at the very least) an accomplice in the rape and murder of Joann Brockmann. I know that if I were Brockmann’s family, I would at least attempt to sue Britt for Joann’s wrongful death.

      1. If I was Brockmann’s family, I wouldn’t be wasting my time on an obviously broken court system.

        I’d be looking at . . . alternatives.

    4. He won’t acknowledge it because in his mind he’s done nothing wrong. Here is a quote from Ken Anderson, another zealous prosecutor that managed to convict at least one innocent man here is central Texas.

      ‘I apologize that the system screwed up. I’ve beaten myself up on what I could have done different and I don’t know. Maybe the Norwood prosecutor has something the sheriff’s office missed.’

      So, it’s all the systems fault don’t you see. It wasn’t me, it was the system. Never mind the fact that I, as the county district attorney, was driving the system at the time.

      1. We should take these people out and visit revolutionary justice upon them. If you are a family member of theirs you can join them in hell.

  9. This is why if we’re going to have the death penalty it should be quickly and decisively imposed, right? It’s effectiveness totally goes away when we drag everybody through a lengthy appeals process…

  10. “You find a cigarette, you say it has Roscoe Artis’ DNA on it, but so what? It’s just a cigarette, and absent some direct connection to the actual killing, what have you got? Do you have exoneration? I don’t think so,”

    I love that. You may not have “exoneration” but you sure as hell have reasonable doubt.

    1. I thought I had read elsewhere that during the initial trial and during the first set of appeals, they had linked the cigarette to the case.

      1. Found it in another article on the News & Observer website. Just a small mention though:

        Prosecutors had argued at trials in the 1980s and 1990s that the killer left a cigarette at the crime scene. Recent DNA tests of that cigarette found Artis’ DNA on it.

        1. That is classic. When he thought he could pin it on the defendant, it was a big deal. Now that it is shown to belong to a known child killer who had the opportunity to commit the crime its just a cigarette.

          God what a monster.

          1. What’s really monstrous about this case is that the DA apparently feels absolutely zero remorse that he, personally, made sure the real killer was left on the loose, where he actually raped and killed another person.

            Seriously, what kind of psychopath isn’t deeply bothered by that?

            1. Wasn’t the second killing only a month later? I mean, I agree with what you’re saying, but only if they had some reason to pick up the actual murderer before that second murder occurred.

              Of course, he’s still a heinous bastard for being a smug prick about putting two innocent men away for 30 years apiece.

            2. Not that he shouldn’t be keelhauled, but is it possible that he doesn’t trust DNA testing because he’s too old to have incorperated it in his worldview?

              I mean, anybody who actually works in Law Enforcement must kniw that CSI is mostly hogwash. And I can imagine that that knowledge could easily lead to a,general distrust of such “evidence” where it runs counter to one’s preferences/prejudices/instincts.

          2. I absolutely agree. A cigar sucking monster!

      2. I wouldn’t be surprised.

    2. I can’t believe the DA just simply brushes off the physical evidence of a serial rapist presence like it is nothing.

  11. I’d go a step further and argue their innocence (or at least McCollum’s) demonstrates, once again, just how broken the death penalty is in the United States.

    I would go so far to say that, since it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to prosecute the correct person, and not the wrong person, that in this instance what appears to be broken is the office of the prosecutor, or the prosecutor himself.

    I’m becoming more and more skeptical of the system, and in this instance I am going to point the finger at the prosecutor.

    1. No conviction equals no re-election. You think any prosecutor wouldn’t throw anyone behind bars, guilty or not, in such a heinous crime as the rape and murder of an 11 year-old? Whatever it takes to be re-elected.

      1. Shows what a sub human Britt really is. No regard for getting justice for this murdered child and her family. No concern for the safety of the public. Just get re-elected at any cost. In this case, at the cost of two innocent young men. If that isn’t the definition of a psychopath, I don’t know what is. No conscience, no heart, no soul.

  12. I dunno if this is an indictment of the death penalty, as much as its an indictment of the criminal justice system as a whole.

    Is this kind of grotesque miscarriage of justice somehow made less outrageous if it just results in life in prison without parole?

    By wrapping this in the “anti-death-penalty” flag, we may be missing an opportunity, is all.

  13. This is obscene! I have seen it exemplified in police training. I once had an instructor in a advanced interrogation class ask the question ‘what is the purpose of an interrogation?’ His answer was “to get a confession”. Um, no. The purpose or goal is to obtain the truth! I raised my hand and pointed this out and he sputtered and semi backtracked and did a lot of huffing and puffing but eventually conceded that yes it was it least possible that somebody being interrogated after arrest might in fact be innocent, but still didn’t really grok the concept that if your goal was to gain a confession you were poisoning the investigation from the outset by not being open to the possibility of innocence. Remember this guy was hired as an instructor for a “advanced” interrogation class. OBSCENE!

    1. not bad, too much punctuation, not enough stupid made up acronyms

      not a bad try though.

  14. “Recent DNA testing of a cigarette butt found near the scene of the crime”

    How did the DNA testing define the time the cigarette butt was deposited at the scene? How many other cigarette butts were found at the scene? How much additional DNA was found at the scene that could be attributed to dozens of other people at dozens of different times?

    As described in this article, the “exoneration” would appear to be nothing more than a politically correct action taken to further someone’s political career and/or agenda.

    1. Yo tulpa. Coming into a dead thread to get your point across without argument again?

      P.S. fuck you.

    2. Are you trolling, or are you actually a sociopath like Joe Freeman Britt?

  15. Joe Freeman Britt, you should be hung by your redneck until you’re dead!

  16. Dear Mr. Joe Freeman Britt,

    You sent two innocent men to prison for 30 years, and due to your mistake, another woman was raped and murdered. You’ll never face the “justice” you were so keen to administer. You can still do the honorable thing; a car, closed garage, and a bottle of booze is all it takes. You fucked up, now man up.

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  19. May Britt burn in hell. But before that, may he get a ravaging disease that ruins his life for the harm he causes others.

  20. Britt is two bit punk. I hope he goes to prison someday and is killed there.

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