- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A federal judge in North Carolina on Friday rejected requests to seal details in a lawsuit concerning a child murder investigation that led to two brothers being wrongfully imprisoned for three decades, and in a proposed monetary settlement with some investigators.

Five news organizations, including The Associated Press, had asked U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle for access to documents that were filed confidentially in the lawsuit by Henry McCollum and a representative of his half brother, Leon Brown.

A lawyer representing the brothers had sought to permanently seal some documents in the lawsuit and in a settlement between the brothers and the town where 11-year-old Sabrina Buie was slain in 1983. Attorneys representing defendants filed responses confidentially, too. But Boyle wrote that the parties failed to justify the need to keep the filings hidden.

The brothers were freed in 2014 after evidence indicated they were wrongly convicted, with DNA pointing to another man for the girl’s rape and killing in Robeson County.

They were later pardoned and the state awarded them $750,000 each. The brothers - teenagers at the time of the girl’s death - were scared, had low IQs and were berated by investigators until they signed confessions saying they were part of the group that killed Buie, according to their attorneys.

The two were initially given death sentences but then retried. McCollum was again sent to death row, while Brown was found guilty of rape and sentenced to life. But all that changed after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission got involved several years ago and had new DNA analysis done on evidence from the crime scene.

The commission gave the brothers’ attorneys the investigatory files in the case and got legal orders placed on their use, but those attorneys have also needlessly sought to file many documents in the lawsuit under seal, media lawyer Amanda Martin wrote in a motion for the news outlets. She said there are legitimate reasons for the public to hear about this case because innocent people were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes.

In an order issued late Friday following an afternoon hearing, Boyle wrote “the parties have extended their reliance on the consent protective order in this case too far, resulting in a docket on which a large number of documents are now provisionally sealed.” He gave the sides in the lawsuit 10 days to identify which specific documents they would like sealed and provide a legal justification for the requests.

The News & Observer of Raleigh, The Fayetteville Observer, The Charlotte Observer and WTVD-TV were the other news outlets asking to intervene in the case and oppose keeping lawsuit documents under seal.

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