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Experts Address North Carolina Death Penalty System

Photo: Leon Brown (center) and Henry McCollum received a pardon of innocence from Gov. Pat McCrory after spending 30 years on death row. Photo courtesty: Jenny Warburg
Photo: Leon Brown (center) and Henry McCollum received a pardon of innocence from Gov. Pat McCrory after spending 30 years on death row. Photo courtesty: Jenny Warburg
June 8, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina's death penalty system is broken, say criminal justice experts, and they stress the recent pardon of two inmates by Gov. Pat McCrory is proof of that.

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were pardoned late last week – on the recommendation of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission and the prosecutor in the case – after the two men were found innocent in the murder of an 11-year-old girl.

Ken Rose, senior attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, represented McCollum for 20 years. Rose says the fact that two innocent men originally were sentenced to death is proof enough the death penalty should be repealed.

"It shakes the confidence of any death penalty supporter who is concerned about fairness and reliability of the death penalty in North Carolina or anywhere in the country," he states.

Since 1999, seven people have been exonerated after receiving death sentences in North Carolina, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Nationwide, that number stands at 150.

Supporters of the death penalty say the punishment is necessary for the most extreme crimes.

Now that McCollum and Brown have been granted a pardon, they are eligible for compensation from the state for their time served.

No execution has taken place in North Carolina since 2006 after the state's lethal injection protocol was called into question, but executions could restart if the issue is resolved.

Rose says McCrory should impose a moratorium on executions, because there could be others on death row like McCollum and Brown.

"This is an immensely important case and the recognition by the governor of his actual innocence is an important step to say that we can't get this right,” Rose states. “We haven't gotten it right in the past. There will be mistakes. "

Two-thirds of North Carolina's 149 death row inmates were sentenced more than 15 years ago before reforms that reduced the number of death sentences and the introduction of DNA testing.


Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC