A Black man was freed from a North Carolina prison 44 years after he was wrongly convicted of rape.
Ronnie Long walked out of the prison on Thursday (Aug. 27) and hugged his loved ones. “It’s been a long road,” he said, wearing a “Free Ronnie Long” mask. “But it’s over with. It’s over with now.”
On April 25, 1976, Long was convicted of raping a 54-year-old white woman in her home in Concord, North Carolina. She reported that the perpetrator attacked her, assaulted her and then fled. A few weeks later, officers asked the woman to come into a courtroom and see if anyone in there resembled her attacker.
She identified Long, who was there for a trespassing charge, which was later dismissed. An all-white jury found him guilty of rape and burglary and he was sentenced to life in prison. On Thursday, that conviction was vacated.
Since he was convicted, “a trickle of post-trial disclosures has unearthed a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence,” wrote US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephanie Thacker.
Semen samples and fingerprints from the crime scene did not match Long. Thacker said that he was intentionally withheld by law enforcement.
“Because of the deceit that occurred at trial, Ronnie and his counsel at the time didn’t have the benefit of that evidence to present to the jury,” Attorney Jamie Lau told CNN. “So, he’s been wrongly incarcerated for 44 years.”
Long told reporters that he was happy to be back with his loved ones, but he wished his mother was alive to see this day. She reportedly died six weeks before he was freed and always wanted to see her son as a free man. Her last words were allegedly, “Is Ronnie home yet?”
Although Long is free, the charges have yet to be dismissed, but Long’s attorney says he is certain they will be.