64-year-old Ronnie Long was freed after a motion was filed in federal court by the state of North Carolina on Wednesday that sought to vacate his 1976 conviction determined by a jury of all white people. Ronnie Long had been sentenced to life in prison for rape in the first degree and burglary in the first degree.
“They will never ever, never ever ever, lock me up again,” Long said to WCNC reporters after being freed. “This is real. I’m going to try to enjoy every minute of it.”
Jamie Lau is his attorney who is also a professor at the Duke Law Innocence Project. Lau said the there were forensic reports that implicated a different suspect and the evidence wasn’t given to the defense by the state, that police “perjured themselves” in Long’s trial.
Three judges in a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Monday that Long’s rights were violated after evidence that showed he was innocent wasn’t included in his Cabarrus County trial.
Long was about 20-years-old when he faced accusations of raping 54-year-old Sarah Judson Bost at knifepoint on the night of April 25, 1976, in her Concord home.
Two weeks later following the attack, detectives in the case had a hunch that the real culprit may have been one of the defendants in court that day. Detectives then asked Bost to go inside the county courthouse, the records show. Then Long was called for being involved in a trespassing case, and Bost the victim said she recognized Long’s voice.
Later on, she pointed to Long out of a photo lineup. Long was the only man in the lineup who wore a leather jacket that was the type she said her attacker had been wearing, court records show.
The mother of Long’s 2-year-old-son and his mother said at the time that he was talking to them in a group phone call when the attack reportedly took place. Long has been living with his mother and was getting ready to attend a party in Charlotte on that night, they mentioned.
The 4th Circuit opinion was led by Judge Stephanie D. Thacker who cited “a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence.”
One of the main arguments prosecutors made to the jury said that “police acted honestly.”
The opinion said there was unheard evidence that included lab test results that did not link Long to the scene of the crime, missing DNA evidence, and 43 fingerprints discovered at the scene that didn’t belong to Long.
“The violent racial history of this country necessarily inform the background of this case: a Black man accused of raping a white woman is tried in 1976 by an all-white jury,” the opinion reads.
Long was convicted in 1976, the trial included the “systematic exclusion” of Black jurors, the 4th Circuit opinion reads, Long tried to appeal, but lost and filed a relief motion 10 years afterward. He was fighting for his innocence ever since then.
The case isn’t completely closed because local prosecutors are able to refile charges. But Lau believes that won’t happen.
“I’m optimistic the charges will be dropped. What evidence could the state present? There is none,” Lau said.
Long said he always kept his faith that he would be proven innocent.
“Always believe that you can overcome,” Ronnie Long said.
He looked forward to catching up with his family, some he hasn’t met yet.
“I got nieces and nephews out here, you understand, they don’t even know me. And a grandbaby,” Ronnie Long said.
Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.