Hogan Lovells obtains $75 million verdict in pro bono civil rights case brought on behalf of wrongfully convicted brothers

Washington, D.C., 14 May 2021 – Today, a jury rendered a $75 million verdict in favor of our clients Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two men who had been wrongfully convicted, sentenced to death, and spent 31 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.

DNA evidence exonerated them in 2014. And today a jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina returned a verdict totaling $75 million against the State Bureau of Investigation agents who violated their civil rights, which led to their wrongful incarceration. Earlier today, the Robeson County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Department and two of its officers agreed to pay our clients US$9 million for their part in this miscarriage of justice and to avoid having the case go to the jury against them.

Global law firm Hogan Lovells represented McCollum and Brown in the case. The verdict is believed to be the largest in the history of the United States in a wrongful conviction case.

McCollum and Brown, who are intellectually disabled, half-brothers, were convicted for the 1983 rape and murder of a young girl. McCollum was 19 and Brown was 15 when they were interrogated and were coerced into signing false confessions written by law enforcement officers. They were both sentenced to death, and McCollum was on death row for 31 years, becoming the longest serving death row inmate in North Carolina. Brown, who was 16 when he was convicted, became the youngest person on death row.

The brothers were released in 2014 after DNA evidence uncovered by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission proved that a serial rapist and murderer had killed the young girl.  

On the day of closing arguments in the civil rights trial, three of the defendants in the case, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Ken Sealey, and Deputy Garth Locklear agreed to a $9 million settlement. The case against defendants Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead went to the jury, which rendered a $75 million verdict against them after deliberating for four hours. The verdict was comprised of $31 million of compensatory damages for each brother and $13 million in punitive damages.  

“Henry and Leon lost more than 31 years of their lives, and suffered enormously during this long incarceration for a crime they did not commit,” said Hogan Lovells partner Des Hogan, who led the firm’s pro bono team. “You can’t put a price on this loss, but we are grateful that Defendants have been forced to acknowledge this travesty of injustice and a strong message has been sent in North Carolina and around the country that coercive interrogations and covering up police misconduct will not be tolerated.” 

Hogan serves as global Head of Hogan Lovells’ Litigation, Arbitration, and Employment practice. Other members of the firm’s pro bono team included partner Cate Stetson, co-director of Hogan Lovells appellate practice, who argued the appeal of the matter in the Fourth Circuit in 2019, senior associates Elizabeth Lockwood and David Maxwell, and many associates and paralegals who supported the effort.


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