A judge in Robeson County said on Tuesdaythat Henry Lee McCollum, 50, North Carolina State’s longest-serving death-row inmate, and Leon Brown, 46, were innocent of the 1983 rape and killing of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie after the evidence came to light.
Both are severely intellectually disabled and were teenagers at the time of their arrests in 1983, the AFP news agency reported.
Following false confessions, McCollum was given a death sentence and Brown was serving life for the rape.
“This case highlights in a most dramatic manner the importance of finding the truth,” said Ann Kirby, Brown’s lawyer.
“Today, truth has prevailed, but it comes 30 years too late for Sabrina Buie and her family, and for Leon, Henry, and their families.
“Their sadness, grief, and loss will remain with them forever.”
North Carolina state law now requires murder interrogations to be recorded or videotaped, but at the time the brothers were convicted such laws were not in effect.
There were no recordings of the confessions, which contained details that authorities now acknowledge were factually impossible