Last week, two men were released after spending 30 years in prison in North Carolina. They were falsely convicted of rape and murder in 1983. They were both exonerated by DNA evidence. The man who prosecuted them is, proudly, no pussy.
Henry Lee McCollum (pictured) and Leon Brown are both mentally disabled. It now appears that their confessions to the crime were coerced, and the details in their confessions the product of prompting by the police. McCollum was sent to death row; Brown got a life sentence. Their exoneration after 30 years marks the end of a horrific miscarriage of justice.
The New York Times Richard Oppel Jr. paid a visit to North Carolina to profile Joe Freeman Britt, the prosecutor who sent both of the innocent men to prison. Britt was a notoriously harsh D.A. who sent 40 people to death row during the course of his career. He is also a living symbol of the gross, almost medieval nature of the justice system in small Southern counties. The entire profile draws a picture of a man with awful injustices on his hands, but no regrets. Two quotes will suffice to drive home the point. First, Britt's reply to being told that his successor, a relative, had characterized him as a "bully" during his time as prosecutor.
"Well, let's say, if I was a bully, he is a pussy. How about that?" the elder Mr. Britt said.
"When we tried those cases, every time they would bring in shrinks to talk about how retarded they were," he said. "It went on and on and on, blah-blah-blah."
These were on-the-record statements to a reporter made after two men that he sent to prison to die were exonerated.
We have a long way to go.