Mr. Artis later raped and strangled an 18-year-old woman while the brothers were awaiting trial. He was convicted of that crime, and he was eventually investigated in the Buie case, but Joe Freeman Britt, the local district attorney at the time, never told defense lawyers.
With no leads in the Buie case, which was the first murder in Red Springs in four years, the town was desperate for answers, Mr. Abrams said. A white schoolgirl told the police that Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown, who are Black, were responsible, saying that she suspected them because they acted strangely.
She later recanted, but the accusation led to a five-hour interrogation late at night in which Mr. Allen and Mr. Snead coerced Mr. McCollum into confessing, Mr. Abrams said.
Investigators yelled at Mr. McCollum, who was 19 at the time but had the mental capacity of a 9-year-old, calling him racial slurs and telling him that he would be sent to the gas chamber if he did not admit to the crime, Mr. Abrams said.
At midnight that evening, Mr. McCollum’s mother went to the police station, taking Mr. Brown, then 15, wondering why her son hadn’t come home. But when she stepped outside, Mr. Abrams said, the police took Mr. Brown in to interrogate him as well.
A jury sentenced both to be executed. After the State Supreme Court ordered separate retrials, Mr. McCollum returned to death row and Mr. Brown was sentenced to life in prison.
A lawyer representing Mr. Allen and the estate of Mr. Snead, who died in 2019, did not respond to a request for comment. In his testimony last week, Mr. Allen denied yelling, using racial slurs or coercing the teenagers into confessing to the crime.