Monday, March 16, 2015

Henry McCollum & Leon Brown: 31 Years & Still Waiting For Gov Pat McCrory's Pardon

When will Gov Pat McCrory pardon 2 innocent men in NC?
Less than two weeks after Rolling Stone published a searing expose by Paul Solotaroff about the wrongful conviction and incarceration of Philadelphia's Tony Wright for a crime DNA proves he didn't do, a similar case of disturbing injustice is making headlines.

The almost cartoonishly conservative North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory's name is back in the national headlines again, only this time it's not for repressing votes.

He's facing pressure for dragging his feet on issuing pardons to two innocent North Carolina men wrongly jailed for 31 years for a rape and murder they did not commit.

It puts the spotlight and pressure on a conservative governor at a time when police departments, courts and America's massive prison industrial complex all face increased scrutiny for the kind of entrenched racial bias exposed in Ferguson, Missouri.

Henry McCollum & Leon Brown celebrate with their sister in Fayettville, NC
Alan Blinder's revealing piece published in today's New York Times focuses on the story of Henry L McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown (pictured left with their sister).

The two were arrested, tried and convicted for the 1983 sexual assault and murder of an eleven year-old girl named Sabrina Buie.

But they didn't commit the crime and DNA evidence proved it.

Unlike the still-jailed Tony Wright in Philadelphia, both McCollum and Brown have been freed by the North Carolina courts after spending the bulk of their adult lives in prison, but they cannot petition the court for financial restitution for being wrongly convicted and jailed by the state until Governor McCrory issues them an official pardon.

When McCollum walked out of Central Prison's Death Row and Brown left Maury Correctional Institution, the two men were each given $45 by the state of North Carolina.

$45 after 31 years behind bars for something they didn't do.

Based on the DNA evidence that exonerated them, they are legally entitled to compensation by the state of North Carolina; but could any amount of money possibly make up for being incarcerated for 31 years knowing you were innocent?

To get a deeper glimpse of the human cost and impact of being wrongly incarcerated for 31 years, read the article on the case published on January 31, 2015 by Joseph Neff in the Charlotte Observer. As he reports in wrenching detail, McCollum and Brown are currently living with relatives and struggling with the transition back to civilian life until Governor McCrory completes what his spokesman Ryan Tronovitch called, "an extensive review" that is "ongoing".

"Ongoing" meaning the petition for the gubernatorial pardon for McCollum and Brown was submitted to McCrory's office on September 11, 2014 - over six months ago.

If DNA evidence proves conclusively that McCollum and Brown are innocent (which it does), how extensive does a review to grant a pardon to these two men really need to be?

Time will tell and the pressure on McCrory to make a decision will only be ratcheted up with the publication of Alan Blinder's piece in the Times.

According to his own Website, McCrory has granted pardons before, at least one was for a man who actually DID do the crimes he was convicted for - so one would hope the case of Henry L McCollum and Leon Brown would be a no-brainer.

It'd be nice for McCollum and Brown if Governor McCrory showed the same zeal for their pending pardon as he did for enacting legislation that undermined key provisions of the 1964 Voting Rights Act and prevented thousands of eligible North Carolina citizens from casting votes in the 2014 elections.

The last time McCrory was mentioned in this blog was back on September 6, 2014 when a Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer arrested voter rights activist Ty Turner for handing out voter education leaflets in a North Carolina park.

That was back in the fall when North Carolina was just one of many states with Republican governors and Republican majority state legislatures who'd enacted draconian voter repression laws to intentionally suppress the votes of ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly, college students and legal immigrants ahead of the crucial November elections.

McCrory's active support of and participation in efforts to violate the rights of (some) Americans to participate in the Democratic process pegged him as a member of the new breed of ultra right-wing Conservatives whose political philosophy and legislative agenda is driven more by an ideology shaped by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) than it is the actual needs of voters.

Let's just see if that rigid sense of righteous justice Governor McCrory cited as the reason he so strongly supported voter ID legislation applies equally to two innocent men who've spent the bulk of their lives in jail for a crime they didn't commit.

$45 isn't going to cut it. Not even close.

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