Yesterday morning Henry Lee McCollum was released from prison in Raleigh, North Carolina after spending 31 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
In 1983 Mr. McCollum and his half-brother, Leon Brown, were coerced by police into confessing to the rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. They quickly recanted, but the conviction stuck. It took 31 years for DNA evidence to exonerate the mentally disabled brothers. In the United States, an estimated 5% of all black adult males are currently incarcerated, while less than 1% of white adult males are locked up.
Had the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit legal group in North Carolina, failed to take his case, Mr. McCollum would have been executed. Many argue that executing a person with a mental disability violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution which states that a court cannot inflict “cruel and unusual punishment.” Mentally handicapped people in the United States are regularly subjected to the death penalty, often for crimes they’re not guilty of.