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Politics and a Former Death Row Inmate: Henry Lee McCollum

courtesy of cloudfront.net

On Tuesday, due to DNA evidence, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser overturned the convictions of death-row inmate Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, who had been serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of 11 year old Sabrina Buie, which happened in Red Springs, NC in 1983. McCollum and Brown, both African-American and mentally challenged, initially signed statements saying they were responsible for Buie’s death because they were under the impression that they would be allowed to go home if they confessed.

Both men spent 30 years in prison with McCollum being the longest-serving inmate on death row in North Carolina. 

Former NC State Senator John Snow, a retired judge, in 2009 helped pass a new state law, the Racial Justice Act, which enabled judges to reconsider a death sentence if a convict could prove that the jury’s verdict had been tainted by racism. The law was an attempt to address the overwhelming racial disparity in capital sentences. Snow, a Democrat who often voted with Republicans, was considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the NC General Assembly.  

In the 2010 State elections, his opponent was Republican Jim Davis and to Snow’s surprise about 12 mass mailings were used against him, one which featured a photograph of Henry Lee McCollum. After describing McCollum’s crimes in shocking detail, the mailing noted, “Thanks to arrogant State Senator John Snow, McCollum could soon be let off of death row.” They made it appear that he was soft on crime! Snow lost by fewer than 200 votes and this particular ad may have cost him the election to Jim Davis. 

As I researched this, the name of NC former Budget Director Art Pope and the NC Republican party kept appearing. Mr. Pope is a North Carolina politician, businessman, attorney, and philanthropist. 

According to Jane Mayer’s October 10, 2011, New Yorker article, “A State for Sale” The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, a nonpartisan, pro-business organization, revealed that two seemingly independent political groups had spent several hundred thousand dollars on ads against Snow—a huge amount in a poor, backwoods district.  Art Pope was instrumental in funding and creating both groups, Real Jobs North Carolina and Civitas Action. Also, according to Mayer, Real Jobs NC was responsible for mass mailings that attacked Snow’s “pork projects.” The article further indicated that the racially charged ad was produced by the North Carolina Republican Party, and Pope says that he was not involved in its creation. But Pope and three members of his family gave the Davis campaign a four-thousand-dollar check each—the maximum individual donation allowed by state law.

Also, Mayer stated that Snow, whose defeat was first chronicled by the Institute for Southern Studies, a progressive nonprofit organization, told her, “It’s getting to the point where, in politics, money is the most important thing. They spent nearly a million dollars to win that seat. A lot of it was from corporations and outside groups related to Art Pope. He was their sugar daddy.”

Snow was predicted to win, but the Davis campaign had a lot of money for negative campaign available to them. Why did Art Pope and his family give the Davis campaign the maximum individual donations? That’s $16,000 combined for State Senate race that represents: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. 

Why in the world were there almost one million dollars spent in a North Carolina State Senate race representing small western counties?  I am in no way implying that the western part of NC is not important but just curious as to why so much money was spent to defeat a conservative Democratic State Senator who normally sided with Republicans?

I was able to reach the offices of NC Senator Kay Hagans and The NC Republican party but was advised by representatives from both offices that an official response isn't available at this time.

Art Pope is one of the greatest political minds in the United States, He distanced himself from the creation of the racially charged ad back in 2011 and I am very sure he will continue to do so.  The NC Republican Party created the ad and can’t distance themselves, the only logical thing left for them to do is apologize to Henry Lee McCollum for making him the poster boy for their negative political ad! 

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