FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In the days leading up to the one last summer when Henry L. McCollum left North Carolina’s death row, it seemed that inmates and staff members could not stop talking about what awaited him beyond Central Prison.
The man who had spent almost his entire adult life awaiting execution would be able to go out for fried chicken, his favorite. Maybe he could strike a movie deal. At the very least, Mr. McCollum remembers, people told him that he would be a man of considerable wealth once the state paid him the $750,000 he could seek under North Carolina law because he had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for decades.
Mr. McCollum, 50, was released from prison last September after DNA evidence showed that he did not rape and murder a young girl in 1983. But since then, he and his half brother, Leon Brown, who was also exonerated and freed in the same case, have led anything but glamorous post-prison lives. Instead, because of legal decisions made to help accelerate their release, as well as Gov. Pat McCrory’s deliberate approach to granting what is known here as a pardon of innocence, both men have clung to a minimal existence, absent substantive remuneration, counseling or public aid in transitioning back to society.