Hogan Lovells wins appeal in decision affirming historic jury verdict in wrongful conviction case
Washington, D.C., 13 March 2023 – A team from global law firm Hogan Lovells has successfully defended a jury verdict on appeal that awarded two North Carolina brothers the largest wrongful-conviction award in history following their release from prison after serving 31 years for a murder they did not commit.
A federal jury concluded that Kenneth Snead and Leroy Allen, North Carolina Special Bureau of Investigations agents, had unconstitutionally coerced the confessions of half-brothers Leon Brown and Henry McCollum for the 1983 murder of a young girl.
Brown, who was 15 at the time of his conviction, was sentenced to life without parole; McCollum, who was 19 at the time, was sentenced to death. The two were released only in 2014, following an investigation by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission that proved their innocence, and both men subsequently received Pardons of Actual Innocence issued by the Governor of North Carolina. By the time the brothers were released from imprisonment, Henry McCollum had spent longer on Death Row than any other North Carolina prisoner.
Brown and McCollum were awarded US$75 million in 2021 following a jury trial in which a Hogan Lovells team represented the brothers. More information on the jury’s pathbreaking verdict can be found here.
On March 8, a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit sustained the jury’s verdict against multiple legal challenges. The Court of Appeals also concluded that $10 million of the $75 million award had been contributed to the brothers by other defendants, and remanded one narrow issue to the district judge to consider if a previous US$1.5 million award to the brothers from a state statutory compensation fund should be further offset against the $75 million verdict.
The panel also affirmed a total of approximately US$6.25 million in lawyers’ fees in addition to the larger award. These fees will be included in the costs against all defendants.
The Hogan Lovells appeal team was led by partner and Co-Head of our Appellate practice Cate Stetson, alongside senior associates Matthew Higgins and Patrick Valencia and paralegal Ashley Johnson. The Hogan Lovells appeal team was supported by members of the Hogan Lovells trial team that secured the record-breaking verdict: our Global Head of Litigation, Arbitration and Employment practice, Des Hogan, senior associate David Maxwell, former Hogan Lovells lawyer Elizabeth Lockwood (now of Ali & Lockwood LLC) and local counsel Elliott Abrams of Cheshire Parker Schneider, PLLC.