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Editor’s Note: This column is the product of a research collaboration with five Amherst College students, Mattea Denny, Nicolas Graber-Mitchell, Greene Ko, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi. America’s death penalty continues to fall out of favor, a well-known fact. When the year started, eight executions were scheduled for February and March in five different states. But all of them are now on hold, and two of the three executions that were set for April already have been halted. While advocacy for the end of the death penalty has played some role, it is the decomposition of the lethal injection paradigm that has truly driven down execution numbers. We have now seen a decade of chaos and experimentation as death penalty jurisdictions tried to find reliable sources of drugs to carry out executions. States rolled out new drugs, but things did not go smoothly. The number of mishaps associated with lethal injection increased substantially. From 2010-2020, an already problematic method of ex

North Carolina Bar Suspends License of Lawyer Who Defrauded Death-Row Exonerees

Patrick Megaro
The North Carolina state bar has suspended the law license of a lawyer whose predatory representation of 2 intellectually disabled death-row exonerees defrauded them of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After a multi-day disciplinary hearing beginning March 15, 2021, a 3-member panel of the North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission suspended Patrick Megaro’s license to practice law in the state for 5 years. The panel also ordered Megaro to repay half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown $250,000 in fees he had charged them in connection with their application for compensation for their wrongful convictions for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.

The men — whose IQs in the 50s place them in the bottom third of a percent of the population in intellectual functioning — were sentenced to death after falsely confessing to the murder during hours of coercive police interrogations conducted without counsel or their parents being present. McCollum was 19 years old at the time and Brown was 15. Both were sentenced to death.

The brothers were exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2014 after DNA evidence proved their innocence. McCollum had spent nearly 31 years on death row. Brown, whose death sentence was overturned after 9 years on death row, was serving a life sentence.

Megaro became McCollum’s and Brown’s lawyer in March 2015, after 2 women who claimed to be advocating on behalf of the brothers persuaded them to fire the lawyers who had already prepared and filed their compensation applications and replace them with Megaro’s law firm. The brothers received the statutorily mandated compensation awards of $750,000, but Megaro — who the complaint says did virtually no work on their compensation case — took $250,000 in fees from each man. Within 7 months, McCollum was out of money and taking out predatory loans with 19% interest compounded every 6 months. Megaro also negotiated a proposed settlement of the brothers’ wrongful prosecution lawsuit in which he was to receive $400,000 of a $1 million payment.

Henry McCollum (pictured, right) and Leon Brown (pictured, left
McCollum’s and Brown’s intellectual disability, the bar complaint argued, made them especially vulnerable to exploitation by Megaro.

North Carolina State Bar attorneys argued during the disciplinary hearing that Megaro should be disbarred. The hearing also included testimony from capital defense lawyer Ken Rose, who had represented McCollum for more than two decades and had assisted in the brothers’ exonerations. Rose explained how Megaro and his associates had pushed Rose off of the case by convincing McCollum that Rose and his other lawyers, who had been representing McCollum without charge, “weren’t being fair with him.”

Rose explained that McCollum “was easily manipulated. He had very little understanding of things like managing money. He had very little understanding about people who might not want to serve his best interest. He could not handle his financial affairs.”

Rose continued to remain in contact with McCollum even after Megaro took over the case. “I felt so bad for him,” said Rose about McCollum. “I felt like he was a victim over and over and over again.”

The bar complaint alleged 18 instances in which it said Megaro had violated the state’s rules of professional conduct, including charging “an improper fee,” revealing “confidential information” about McCollum and Brown, engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” and failing “to represent McCollum and Brown with competence or diligence.”

McCollum and Brown received new lawyers in 2018 who are representing them without charge. A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on the brothers’ behalf is expected to go to trial later this year.

Megaro is still licensed to practice law in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center, Staff, March 29, 2021


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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