Ronnie Long, a 64-year-old Black man wrongly accused of rape and burglary charges in 1976, was finally freed from prison after 44 years behind bars in North Carolina. When Long was released from the Albemarle Correctional Institute on Thursday, he declared that "It's been a long road. But it's over with. It's over with now."
When he was 20-years-old, Long was charged with the rape of 54-year-old Sarah Bost in North Carolina alongside burglary charges connected to the case; he was notably convicted by an all-white jury. Despite the scene of the crime containing hair and fingerprints not matching Long’s own DNA, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison by the state.
But Long never failed to maintain his innocence during his decades in prison, and it was a move that benefited him down the road. As it turns out, Concord police may have tampered with evidence that could clear long's name: According to his attorney, 40 finger prints and a semen sample that were collected but never shared all did not match Long. Stephanie Thacker, a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, called the hiding of the evidence following his trial and sentence “a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence.”
Even with this revelation, the state maintained that nothing could be done to change Long’s sentence. At the request of Long’s lawyer, Jamie Lau, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Cabarrus County District Attorney’s office did eventually dismiss the charges against Long. He hasn’t, however, been cleared of both charges.
“This is real right here,” Long, with his wife AshLeigh and family members by his side, told a local news station upon his release. “I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it. Every minute I’ve got left in my life.”
According to Long, his lawyer, and various political figures, prejudice and racism played a major role in his conviction. Judge James Wynn of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals drove home the fact that Long, “a Black man, was tried in 'small town' 1970s North Carolina by an all white jury for the rape of the white widow of a prominent local business executive” in a statement. Long now plans to contact North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and seek monetary compensation through a pardon of innocence.