The prosecutor's office declined to comment, but a Superior Court judge, in granting a hearing for Brown, recently wrote that the allegation of a false confession "appears to have gone unrebutted by the prosecution."
Brown was arrested and sent to Dorthea Dix. A month later he was declared mentally incompetent. He has been there ever since.
As the years have passed, lawyers have attempted to free Brown, with no success. Tim Rogers, chief assistant district attorney in Anson County, declined to comment on the case.
But, in 1998, District Attorney Michael Parker wrote in a letter to the state attorney general's office that "Mr. Brown is a danger to the community," and said that he would seek the death penalty if Brown was found fit to stand trial. Under a Supreme Court decision issued after the letter, Brown is not eligible for the death penalty because of his mental retardation.
"If he is well enough to be released, then he should be well enough to stand trial," the letter said.
In 2003, a doctor at Dorthea Dix said Brown was now fit to stand trial. When his lawyers tried to get the physical evidence in the case, they hit a snag — most of it was missing.
Records show that the physical evidence, including the murder weapon, was sent to a state lab for analysis and that it was mailed back. But, much of the evidence has disappeared, and no one involved in case seems to be able to explain what happened to it.
"If we knew what happened, we would be able to find it," said Allen.
According to Ramsey, the former SBI agent, the Anson County Sheriff's Office at the time "had no procedures whatsoever" for maintaining evidence. The evidence room "was open so anyone could walk in. Anyone could have access to it," he said. "We found money missing, drugs missing."
Allen, who was not the sheriff between 1994 and 2002, said the evidence procedures in Anson County have since been improved. "One of the reasons I ran for sheriff again was because this place was such a mess," he said.
Asked in a court hearing what he did to recover the evidence when he learned that it was missing, Allen testified, "I didn't do anything." He told ABC News that not all of the evidence had disappeared, but he would not say which evidence was still there.
Lab reports show that no blood was ever found on Brown's clothes and that fingerprint tests on the murder weapon were inconclusive.
With Brown's trial set for September 2006, Brown's lawyers say the district attorney's office offered Brown a plea deal that would let him out of the mental institution with time served. Under the agreement, Brown would plead guilty, but could still assert his innocence.
Court records say that Brown could not be made to understand the agreement and that he was once again declared incompetent to stand trial. He went back to Dorthea Dix.
Early this month, a Durham County judge will hear what is probably Brown's last chance at freedom. His lawyers argue that keeping him confined in Dorthea Dix violates his due process rights.
The North Carolina Justice Department is also examining the case, but a spokeswoman would not elaborate on the details of the investigation.
"He says he wants to come home," said his sister Staton. "He wants to know why they're keeping him. He's always wanted to come home."