As the years have passed, attempts to get Brown out of the mental institution have been denied by the courts. Now, after media reports on his story, the North Carolina Department of Justice is examining the case. A Superior Court judge next week will hold a hearing in what is probably Brown's last chance at freedom.
"It's gotten to be a nightmare," Brown's sister Frances Staton told ABC News. "He's sitting there for something he didn't do and not even understanding why they're holding him."
It was clear from an early age that Brown was, as his family puts it, "slow." One of five children born to a mentally retarded mother, Brown's IQ has measured between 50 and 57, giving him the mind of a 6-year-old.
His family says he can't tell time or read. When he was 15, one of his schoolteachers had to ask other students to show Brown how to bathe himself. His grandmother nicknamed him "Spooky," Staton said.
School records show that as a teenager, Brown didn't understand words like "exit" and "stop." The vocational center where he worked at the time of his arrest said Brown could not "express personal opinions, request assistance when needed and protect himself from exploitation or personal harm from others."
Brown often hung around the county courthouse in Wadesboro, a small town in rural Anson County. He made a little money by planting flowers at a greenhouse and worked at a vocational center for mentally disabled adults, a psychiatric report said. When he was arrested, in July 1993, Brown lived in a ramshackle house with his mother with no shower or bathtub.
Records say that Brown used to drink a lot and that he'd been picked up by police more than 20 times for public drunkenness. He also got into trouble for shoplifting and trespassing and was once charged with a misdemeanor for pulling a knife on a police officer. School and medical records say Brown is sometimes paranoid and given to sudden outbursts. He can be violent and exhibits inappropriate behavior toward women, according to the records.
His father, Cleveland Cash, told ABC News that Brown was not dangerous. "He wouldn't mess with nobody. He's scared of other people," he said.
On the morning of July 9, 1993, sheriff's deputies found 80-year-old Katherine Lynch's bloody body in her bedroom. She'd been beaten to death with her own walking stick.
Police records show that two men at what was referred to as a "drink house" said that a man who hung around the courthouse knew something about the murder. That led police officers to Brown.
On July 15, police searched Brown's house and spoke to him. Staton said Brown later told her police had taken him to Lynch's house and told him to pick up a stick.
Two detectives involved with the case denied that ever happened.
"I'm a Christian. I'm all for helping people, not hurting people," said former Detective Robert Poplin. "I don't have no vendetta against Floyd Brown."
Roland "Bud" Hutchinson, listed in police records as the lead investigator on the case for the sheriff's office, said he was not involved in the investigation. "I don't know anything about Floyd Brown," he said. "I was not involved in the case at all."
The next day, according to court records, investigators picked up Brown at the vocational center and took him to the police station. Cash, Brown's father, told ABC News that he went to the police station and was told police only wanted to talk to Brown.