Henry McCollum, North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate, and his half-brother Leon Brown were released after more than 30 years in prison on Tuesday after DNA tests proved their innocence of rape and murder.

The exoneration followed dogged investigations by the two men’s lawyers and by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, an independent body that operates with the full statutory powers of the state. The exoneration and release of the two men now puts the spotlight on the police department in Red Springs, North Carolina, that carried out the initial investigation leading to the 1984 convictions of the then teenagers and their subsequent languishing behind bars.

James Payne, Leon Brown’s attorney, told the Guardian that in his view the main mistake made by the police was that “they jumped to the first and easiest target without critically investigating the case. That’s who these two boys were – the easiest target, and here we are 31 years later.”