On September 25th, 1983, 11-year-old Sabrina Buie ventured out of her house in Robeson County, North Carolina around 12.20 a.m. She was brutally raped and murdered shortly thereafter; her nude body was found discarded in a field not far away; medical examiners determined she had lacerations deep within the vagina and in her anal canal. Petechial hemorrhaging- small blood vessels- caused by pressure were found in her eyes, heart, and lungs. Her brain was swollen due to lack of oxygen. A stick and pair of panties were wedged in Sabrina’s throat- completely obstructing the airway- she died of asphyxiation. Not long after the discovery of the body, Henry Lee McCollum (19 at the time) and Leon Brown (15 at the time) were questioned (for around 5 hours) and then arrested for the horrific crimes after they confessed and provided details of their acts. Shortly after their arrest, McCollum recanted his confession. He later declared, “I just made up a story and gave it to them so they would let me go home”. The two were convicted at trial; Brown was sentenced to life in prison, and McCollum was sentenced to death. At the time, McCollum was mentally “retarded” with an IQ between 60 and 69 and a mental age of a 9-year-old. He read at a second-grade level. Joe Freeman Britt prosecuted the case with vigor; Britt was widely known as a strong advocate for capital punishment and was once dubbed the “Deadliest D.A.” the area. Because of the horrific aspects of the crime, including the tender age of the victim, Buie became a poster child for advocates of the death penalty- so much so that, according to the “News and Observer”, Raleigh, N.C., the state Republican Party once placed McCollum’s booking photo on political literature for purposes of suggesting that a Democratic Candidate was soft on crime. Justice Antonin Scalia, in response to Justice Blackmun’s claim that the death penalty was unconstitutional in a case, suggested that Blackmun had purposely selected a less graphic case to make his point and then referenced the Buie case detailing the aforementioned grisly details; he concluded his remarks by saying, “ . . . How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!”
Update: September 3, 2015: The state awarded the men $750,000 each for their wrongful convictions and decades of incarceration. The amounts hardly compensate the men for their 30 years of captivity; there were alleged beatings and sexual assaults in the prison. A lawyer for the men is now suing the cops and Robeson County for the malicious handling of the original investigation.