A jury awarded two brothers $75 million after they spent nearly 31 years wrongfully imprisoned.
The two were released in 2014 after new DNA evidence linked a convicted murderer to the crime.
The payout followed a civil rights case the brothers had pursued against law enforcement since 2015.
A North Carolina jury awarded two Black half-brothers who were wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 1983 a combined $75 million in compensatory damages after they spent three decades in prison.
The two men were freed in 2014 when the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission announced new DNA evidence implicated a convicted murderer in the crime and exonerated the two brothers after they had spent 30 years, 11 months, and seven days in prison.
Henry McCollum and Leo Brown, both intellectually disabled, were 20 and 16 at the time they were sentenced to death row after being convicted on the basis of confessions that, for years, they had argued were coerced. Brown, now 53, was North Carolina's youngest death row inmate before he was re-sentenced to life in prison and McCollum, now 57, became the state's longest-serving death row inmate, according to The News & Observer.
McCollum saw 42 of his fellow death row inmates executed during his time in prison, the outlet reported, all the while fearing he would suffer the same fate.
As the culmination of a civil rights case the brothers pursued against law enforcement starting in 2015, an eight-person jury on Friday awarded both men $31 million each - $1 million for every year they spent in prison - and an additional $13 million in punitive damages. According to The News & Observer, the Robeson County Sheriff's Office, one of the defendants in the civil suit, settled for an additional $9 million earlier that day.
Elliot S. Abrams, a lawyer representing McCollum and Brown, told The Washington Post the payout is the largest combined award in American history, as well as the highest-ever personal injury payout in North Carolina.
The town of Red Springs, which had originally been named in the civil suit, settled for $1 million in 2017, according to The Associated Press.
The jury found two former investigators for the state had violated McCollum and Brown's constitutional rights by coercing both men into signing false confessions. Investigators reportedly yelled racial slurs at McCollum, who had the mental capacity of a 9-year-old at the time and told him he would be sent to a gas chamber if he did not confess, The New York Times reported.
In his closing arguments, attorney Des Hogan asked the jury to think about the many minutes that had passed slowly while the two brothers sat in prison, The News & Observer reported. Brown and McCollum had lost 15 million minutes during their wrongful imprisonment.
Scott MacLatchie, the lead defense attorney on the case, attempted to cast doubt on the brothers' innocence, even though both men received full pardons from the state in 2015.
According to The News & Observer, both McCollum and Brown require guardians to manage their finances. Brown requires full-time care and suffers from mental-health conditions stemming from his imprisonment, the outlet said.
But when US District Judge Terrence Boyle read the $75 million verdict on Friday evening, the two half-brothers "exchanged emotional embraces with their legal team," the outlet reported.
"I've got my freedom," McCollum said. "There's still a lot of innocent people in prison today. And they don't deserve to be there."
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