On September 2, 2014, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser vacated the sentences of Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, who had been convicted for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. Evidence leading to McCollum’s and Brown’s releases included a DNA match to a man who had been convicted for a similar rape and murder in the same town. At the time of their release, McCollum had been on death row for 30 years, and Brown was serving a life sentence.1
Both McCollum and Brown told confession stories to police during lengthy interrogations. Police records and testimony convinced juries and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, that both men were guilty. The police’s records and testimony were so convincing that, years later, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia invoked the McCollum case as a reason to continue to impose the death penalty in future cases.2 Now that it is known what was done incorrectly in McCollum’s and Brown’s cases and what police interrogators can do to prevent wrongful convictions in the future, it is imperative that police agencies understand the lessons learned from wrongful convictions and revise their policies and practices accordingly.