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Human Fallibility
September 3, 2014

On Tuesday, a North Carolina Superior Court judge exonerated two half-brothers, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, of the 1983 rape and brutal murder of an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buie. Judge Douglas Sasser vacated the convictions and McCollum's death sentence, and ordered the two men released immediately. Prison officials returned McCollum and Brown to jail, where they are expected to be processed and released on Wednesday, after nearly 31 years behind bars.

McCollum and Brown, both of whom have IQs in the 50s and 60s, were convicted mainly on the basis of signed confessions they both said were untrue and coerced at their trials. They were cleared thanks to DNA testing of evidence. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission did find DNA evidence on a cigarette butt near the crime scene, but it belonged to Roscoe Artis, a convicted sexual predator who lived a block from where Buie's body was found. About a month after Buie's murder, Artis confessed to raping and murdering an 18-year-old, a crime for which he is serving a life sentence.

The murder of Sabrina Buie was so notorious that when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in 1994, The New York Times recalls, Justice Antonin Scalia used the occasion to cite McCollum as reason to use lethal injection. (Justice Harry Blackmun argued that because McCollum had the intellect of a 9-year-old, "the death penalty in this case is unconstitutional.")

The prosecutor who secured McCollum and Brown's convictions, former Robeson Count District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt — who is "listed in Guinness World Records as the 'deadliest prosecutor,' responsible for the most death sentences in the United States," the Raleigh News & Observer notes — stands by his case and said his successor "just threw up his hands and capitulated" by not arguing for McCollum's continued incarceration.

Before his conviction was thrown out, McCollum spoke with the News & Observer about the future. "A long time ago, I wanted to find me a good wife, I wanted to raise a family, I wanted to have my own business and everything," he said. "I never got a chance to realize those dreams. Now I believe that God is going to bless me to get back out there." Since McCollum and Brown have spent their entire adult lives in prison, and given their mental impairments, they will almost certainly "face a bewildering and difficult time" out of jail, the News & Observer notes. You can watch McCollum's conversation with the newspaper below. --Peter Weber

terrorism
2:09 p.m. ET
Fethi Belaid/Getty Images

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency in Tunisia on Saturday, the state news agency reports. In June, a gunman killed 38 foreigners and injured 39 others in a beachside terrorist attack. Security officers killed the gunman after the attack had stopped.

It's the second terrorist attack Tunisia has seen in three months, The New York Times reports. The state of emergency allows Essebsi to authorize military operations in Tunisia's own cities. Julie Kliegman

hot diggity dog
1:41 p.m. ET
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Eight-time defending champion Joey Chestnut met his match Saturday in Matt "Megatoad" Stonie, who won Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island. Stonie downed 62 dogs and buns in 10 minutes, two ahead of Chestnut.

"I trained hard for this, and I came prepared," Stonie said.

Chestnut still has claim to the contest record, though, since he polished off 69 dogs in 2013 — good news for those of you who worried the man famous for binge-eating fast food might've lost his dignity with his defeat. Julie Kliegman

Pot economics
1:20 p.m. ET
Oliver Berg/Getty Images

The legal pot market began in Washington on July 8, 2014, and just one year later, it's making bank. The state's 160 stores earn $1.4 million per day. Between state and local governments, pot sales have rolled in about $70 million in taxes, The Associated Press reports.

Business might be good, but all those taxes — on top of federal ones — hurt growers.

"I'm basically doing this for free," James Lathrop, who owns Seattle's first legal shop, told AP. "Nobody's gone out of business, but I'm not driving a new truck either."

So next time you're in Washington, maybe you should think about kicking back with some weed — you know, just for the sake of supporting small business. Julie Kliegman

tied to the whippin' post
12:31 p.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Donald Trump took to Fox & Friends to defend the comments on Mexican immigrants that landed him in hot water this week with companies like NBC, Macy's, and most recently NASCAR.

"The crime is raging and it's violent. And if you talk about it, it’s racist," he said, referring to accusations against his presidential campaign kickoff that many Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug users.

Trump admitted he didn't realize the backlash would be quite so severe, calling himself a "whipping post." Watch the full interview here. Julie Kliegman

you're fired
12:00 p.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

NASCAR joined a long list of companies cutting ties with billionaire and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump following his controversial remarks last month about Mexican people. The auto racing governing body will not hold its Xfinity and Camping World Truck series banquets at the Trump National Doral Miami as originally planned, USA Today reports.

"Our company will not stand to support any person or organization that associates with such beliefs and we feel strongly about distancing ourselves from any negative and discriminatory comments made against any gender, ethnicity, age group or so forth," said Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis, who vowed to not attend the awards if held at Trump's hotel. "I would hope that the entire NASCAR organization would agree with my sentiments."

In his campaign kickoff, Trump classified most Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. as rapists and drug users. NASCAR joins companies like NBC Universal, Univision, and Macy's in denouncing the comments. Julie Kliegman

Awwww
11:35 a.m. ET

A Florida judge had one unusual question for the burglary suspect in her bond court: Did you go to middle school with me?

Arthur Booth, 49, was arrested in Hialeah on charges of burglary, grand theft, fleeing, and resisting arrest, NBC 6 South Florida reports. Judge and former middle school classmate Mindy Glazer's question shocked him. He immediately teared up, held his head, and repeated "Oh my goodness."

Glazer had some encouraging words for the man she called "the nicest kid in middle school."

"Good luck to you sir," she said. "I hope you are able to come out of this OK and just lead a lawful life."

Watch the full encounter below. Julie Kliegman

Cuba Libre
11:05 a.m. ET
Matthew Hinton/AFP/Getty Images

JetBlue ran its first official direct flight from New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport to Havana's José Martí International Airport on Friday, the first in a planned series of weekly charter flights.

It's the first major airline to do so, though smaller outfit Sun Country was the first to start servicing the two cities, Time reports.

JetBlue also runs flights to Cuba from Florida cities following the easing of travel restrictions earlier this year as the two nations work to restore diplomatic ties after half a century without relations. Julie Kliegman

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