North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate and his half-brother serving a life sentence have been exonerated and released from prison after spending more than 30 years behind bars for a rape and murder they did not commit. Robeson County superior court acted with lightning speed to free the two men, Leon Brown and Henry McCollum, who were 15 and 19 at the time of their arrest in 1983. It was testimony to the overwhelming strength of the evidence that was presented to the court that judge Douglas Sasser cleared them of the murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie on the first day of a hearing to consider new DNA evidence in the case.
The evidence absolved McCollum and Brown, now 46 and 50, of any link to biological material collected at the crime scene. It also found a positive match with a known sex offender from the same small town who was living just feet away from the field in which Buie’s body was found. McCollum was held on death row throughout his three decades in prison as an innocent man. His lawyer, Ken Rose of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, who has fought the case for the past 20 years, pointed out that both his client and Brown are diagnosed as having intellectual disabilities.
“It’s terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for 30 years. Henry watched dozens of people be hauled away for execution. He would become so distraught he had to be put in isolation. It’s impossible to put into words what these men have been through and how much they have lost.” Co-counsel for Brown, Ann Kirby, said: “This case is a tragedy which has profoundly affected not only the lives of the people involved, but which profoundly affects our system of justice in North Carolina. This case highlights in a most dramatic manner the importance of finding the truth. Today truth has prevailed, but it comes 30 years too late for Sabrina Buie and her family, and for Leon, Henry, and their families. Their sadness, grief, and loss will remain with them forever.”
The dramatic release of the two prisoners now puts the spotlight on the police department in Red Springs, a small town in the south of the state of just 3,000 people. In court documents filed by lawyers for McCollum and Brown the police department is accused of having framed false confessions for the duo which they made the arrested teenagers sign after hours of interrogations. The town’s police force is also accused of having hidden boxes of crucial evidence in its office from the time of the boys’ trial in 1984 right up to last month. The existence of the evidence, gathered at the crime scene, was never disclosed either to the boys’ defense teams or to the district attorney prosecuting the case. The current district attorney for Robeson County, Johnson Britt, agreed on Tuesday that the two men are innocent and consented to their unconditional release. No further charges will be brought against them.
Western intelligence agencies are on heightened alert after Islamist militias in Libya took control of nearly a dozen commercial jetliners last month. Intelligence reports of the stolen jetliners were distributed within the U.S. government over the past two weeks and included a warning that one or more of the aircraft could be used in an attack later this month on the date marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, said U.S. officials familiar with the reports. “There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing,” said one official. “We found out on September 11 what can happen with hijacked planes.”
The official said the aircraft are a serious counterterrorism concern because reports of terrorist control over the Libyan airliners come three weeks before the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attacks and the second anniversary of the Libyan terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Intelligence reports of the stolen jetliners were distributed within the U.S. government over the past two weeks and included a warning that one or more of the aircraft could be used in an attack later this month on the date marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, said U.S. officials familiar with the reports. “There are a number of commercial airliners in Libya that are missing,” said one official. “We found out on September 11 what can happen with hijacked planes.”
Battle for Libya:
Misrata-led alliance (Libya Dawn):
- Effectively in control of Tripoli
- Includes some Islamist militias, such as LROR
- Also Libya Central Shield
- Called on former parliament, GNC, to reconvene
- Had controlled Tripoli airport for three years
- Includes al-Qaqa Brigade and al-Sawaiq Brigade
- Al-Qaqa had officially joined the national army but remained autonomous
- Supports new parliament
- Loosely allied with rogue General Haftar
In March, the Daily Mail reported on intelligence concerns over the missing Malaysian jetliner, MH370 — whether that unsolved mystery could have been a “trial run” for possible future terror attacks from the air. The newspaper spoke with U.S. officials who speculated that the missing jet may have been hijacked and flown to a secret location, awaiting use in a terrorist plot. Libya’s militias have captured most government ministries in the capital, Tripoli, the government has said. Armed men had blocked staff from entering offices, it added in a statement. On Sunday, militiamen seized the US embassy, with videos showing cheering men diving from a balcony into a swimming pool.
Meanwhile, Abdullah al-Thinni has been reappointed as prime minister after he resigned last week. Libya has been hit by anarchy since Col Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by the militias, backed by Western countries, in 2011. The militias have been fighting for power among themselves since then, with an Islamist-linked group, Libya Dawn, capturing Tripoli last week. Senior government officials and the elected parliament moved to the eastern city of Tobruk, more than 1,000km (620 miles) away, last month for security reasons. “We announce that most ministries, institutions and state bodies in the capital Tripoli are out of our control,” the government statement said.
The US and other countries evacuated their embassy staff in July, as fighting escalated for control of Tripoli. Libya’s central bank and the state oil company are based in the city. The House of Representatives, elected in July, said it had reappointed Mr Thinni, who would now form a new, streamlined government. The elections were the second since Col Gaddafi was killed in the 2011 revolution, but hopes that the polls would help restore stability in Libya have failed to materialize. Libyan Dawn has called on the previous parliament, the General National Congress, to reconvene but the UN has said it will only back the elected body. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the Benghazi attack, which the Obama administration initially said was the result of a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Muslim video.
The BBC contributed to this report.
NATO is to create a 4,000-strong “spearhead” high-readiness force that can be deployed rapidly in eastern Europe and the Baltic states to help protect member nations against potential Russian aggression, according to Nato officials. Leaders from the 28 NATO countries are expected to approve the plan at the alliance’s summit in Wales when the Ukraine crisis tops the agenda on Friday. The NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the force, drawn on rotational basis from NATO allies, could be in action at “very, very short notice”.
Rasmussen described it as a mixture of regular troops and special forces that could “travel light but strike hard”. It would be supported by air and naval forces as needed. He declined to say how many troops would be engaged but NATO officials said it would number around 4,000 and would be expected to deploy to any alliance member country within 48 hours.. “It is so that we are ready should something nasty happen,” a senior NATO official said. Russia is likely to view the creation of the high-readiness force as an aggressive move.
NATO has struggled to find a response to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in February, beyond increased military exercises in the Baltic states. One of the biggest criticisms of NATO’s response to Russian actions has been its lack of speed and flexibility. The spearhead force does not help with the immediate crisis in Ukraine, which is facing Russian incursions in the east and south of the country. But the force might have a deterrent effect if Russia was considering destabilizing the Baltic states. Since the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in March, Poland and other east European and Baltic state members of NATO have demanded the alliance take a more active and high-profile role in their defense.
Other allies, however, have been wary of doing anything that might endanger a 1997 agreement with Moscow under which NATO pledged not to base substantial numbers of soldiers in eastern Europe on a permanent basis. Officials said that troops would be constantly rotated, in order not to violate the 1997 agreement. However, the constant rotation will in effect mean Nato will have a permanent presence in the Baltic states. Airfields and seaports in the region could also be upgraded to permit their use by the force, Rasmussen said. Officials said the creation of the force, formally named the high-readiness joint task force, had been triggered by the Ukrainian crisis and military planners have been working on it since. “Elements of the force should be in place by Christmas,” an official said.
Rasmussen said: “These crises can erupt with little warning, move at great speed and they all affect our security in different ways.” The spearhead group is part of an overall NATO plan that “responds to Russia’s aggressive behavior but it equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges wherever they may arrive”. There is already a NATO response force in place. “We will now significantly enhance the responsiveness of our NATO response force. We will develop what I would call a spearhead within our response force – a very high readiness force able to deploy at very short notice. This spearhead would be provided by allies in rotation, and could include several thousand troops, ready to respond where needed with air, sea and special forces support,” Rasmussen said.
“This will require reception facilities on NATO territory and pre-positioned equipment and supplies, command and control and logistics experts. So this force can travel light, but strike hard if needed. “We will also look at possible upgrades to national infrastructure. That could include airfields and ports to support reinforcements, if the need arises. And we will improve our early warning through an upgrade of our intelligence gathering and sharing.” One of the biggest challenges Russia’s actions have posed is that Nato is designed for conventional warfare but much of the action in Ukraine has been covert and deniable. The spearhead group will be trained to deal with unconventional actions, from the funding of separatist groups to the use of social media, intimidation and black propaganda.
Analysis – Jonathan Marcus, BBC News, diplomatic correspondent
In response to the Ukraine crisis, NATO is to establish a new rapidly deployable “spearhead” force capable of being deployed within a matter of only two days. This is all part of a much wider overhaul of Nato’s response forces which Nato officials say is not solely linked to Ukraine; it will be capable of deploying anywhere within the alliance to give immediate reassurance and a demonstration of alliance resolve. For such a force to be effective there will have to be regular exercises and Nato officials note that headquarters and other so-called “enablers” – key logistics elements for example – will need to be based closer to areas of potential threat – for that read closer to Nato’s eastern and southern borders. Fuel stocks and ammunition may also need to be pre-positioned further east.
A NATO spokeswoman said the spearhead force is completely separate from a 10,000-strong British-led joint expeditionary force that is also being proposed. The spearhead group is a purely NATO concept whereas the British expeditionary force, which would be made up of troops from seven nations, could operate with the European Union and other multilateral organisations. The British plan would also have a wider remit, engaged in peacekeeping as well as crisis management. But a lot of crossover is inevitable as only half-a-dozen of the 28 member NATO countries have the capability to contribute significant military forces. British forces would almost certainly take part in the spearhead group.
The summit will see calls led by US for increased defence spending to confront the Russian threat. Officials said the spearhead force could be used against other emerging threats in the future. Asked by reporters if the spearhead group might be used against Islamic State in Iraq, a NATO official said it was premature to speculate on that. The two-day summit in Newport begins on Thursday, with the first day dominated by plans for Afghanistan after combat troops withdraw at the end of the year.