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2 men convicted of killing girl in 1983 seek new trial

The Associated Press//September 2, 2014

2 men convicted of killing girl in 1983 seek new trial

The Associated Press//September 2, 2014

LUMBERTON (AP) — Half brothers who have spent 30 years in prison for the killing and rape of an 11-year-old North Carolina girl are heading to court to ask that their convictions be overturned based on DNA analysis of a cigarette butt found at the crime scene.

The hearing for 50-year-old Henry McCollum and 46-year-old Leon Brown is scheduled to start Tuesday morning. Lawyers for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation want the men set free. They say a man serving a life sentence for a similar rape and slaying that happened less than a month later is the real killer of Sabrina Buie in 1983.

District Attorney Johnson Britt acknowledged the DNA discovery in court papers. He said evidence from the original trial is being tested again and he hasn’t decided whether he will take the men to trial again if their convictions are overturned.

Buie was found dead in a Robeson County soybean field, naked except for a bra pushed up against her neck. A short distance away, police found two bloody sticks and a cigarette butt.

Authorities said McCollum, who was 19 at the time, and his half brother Brown, who was 15, confessed to killing Buie. Both men were initially given death sentences, which were overturned. At a second trial, McCollum was again sent to death row, where he remains today, while Brown was only convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

But lawyers for the defendants said there is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime. The DNA from the cigarette butts doesn’t match either of them, and fingerprints taken from a beer can at the scene aren’t theirs either. Attorneys said both men have low IQs and their confessions were coerced after hours of questioning.

Instead, the DNA from the cigarette matches 74-year-old man who is serving a life sentence for the rape and killing of an 18-year-old woman just a few miles away, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree.

The other man also was convicted of assaulting three other women over 30 years before his last conviction. The fingerprint on the can found near Buie had not been checked with his prints a week before the hearing was set to begin.

Complicating matters even more was the discovery last month of a box of evidence from the original trial at the small Red Springs police station that authorities thought was lost. Britt said authorities are currently testing that evidence.

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