McCollum, who has been living with his sister in the Fayetteville area, said the money will enable him to support himself and help his family.
“My family, they have struggled for years and years,” McCollum told the Associated Press. “It’s hard out there for them, and I want to help them.”
While in prison, both McCollum and Brown were bullied and brutally attacked by other inmates, which caused Brown to develop “severe and permanent mental illness,” according to a lawsuit that Patrick Megaro, an attorney for both brothers, brought against local authorities.
Megaro filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleging that both men were robbed of their civil rights and should receive unspecified “compensatory and punitive damages.”
After the two men were released last fall, they could not initially seek compensation, because the state statute allowing them to receive the money stated that they had to first be pardoned by the governor. In June, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) announced that after a lengthy review process, he was formally pardoning the two men.
McCollum and Brown were convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl named Sabrina Buie in 1983. The two men, who were both teenagers at the time, were mentally disabled, and both eventually signed confessions that made up most of the evidence against them. They said that they were coerced into signing these confessions.
They were convicted of first-degree murder and rape and sentenced to death in 1984. These convictions were later vacated, and during new trials, McCollum was sentenced to death again while Brown was sentenced to life in prison.
Both men argued for years that they were innocent, and DNA evidence near the crime scene was linked to Roscoe Artis, serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison for a different murder. Last September, Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser determined that McCollum and Brown’s sentences should be vacated “based on significant new evidence that they are in fact innocent.”
North Carolina law states that someone who is pardoned after being imprisoned can ask the North Carolina Industrial Commission for compensation due to “erroneous conviction and imprisonment,” though it caps the compensation at $750,000.
Johnson Britt, the current district attorney and a distant relative of the older Britt, said he had no plans to prosecute the men again. His office helped the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission investigate the case.
McCollum, who spent the better part of three decades on death row, was one of six people in the country who had been sentenced to death and was exonerated last year, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations. A record 125 people were exonerated last year, dozens of whom had pleaded guilty, the report said.