In 1976, a 19-year-old Ronnie Long went to court for a trespassing charge in Concord, North Carolina and ended up being accused of raping a white woman. He’s now been imprisoned for 44 years, and he’s calling on North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to commute his sentence.
According to The Charlotte Observer, the now 64-year-old Long was convicted of raping the wife of a Cannon Mills executive by an all-white jury. However, he’s consistently maintained his innocence. Today, he is halfway through his 80-year prison sentence and Long has been back and forth with the court system.
In May, his lawyer, Jaime Lau defended his case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which included 15 members of the country’s second highest court. Lau is awaiting a decision to vacate Long’s conviction, to send it back to lower court or to uphold his sentence.
Many of the judges who spoke during the hearing were skeptical about Long’s conviction due to the government misconduct that occurred, according to a recording posted on the court’s website.
About a dozen pieces of evidence tested by the State Bureau of Investigation — evidence that could’ve diminished the prosecution’s case — were never given to Long’s attorneys or the jury, according to court documents.
As recently as 2015, nearly 30 years after the case, Long’s attorneys found out about 43 fingerprints cops collected from the rape scene and none of the prints matched Long’s. Semen samples where also retrieved from the victim, which were never given to the defense and they later disappeared.
“No jury would convict Mr. Long today,” Lau of Duke University’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic told the judges. “Would we even have had a trial if all the evidence had come forward?”
One Black judge in particular, James Wynn, was sympathetic to Long’s case.
“What is it about us that we want to prosecute and keep people in jail when we know evidence may exist that might lead to a different conclusion,” Wynn said. “Why is that so offensive to us now that we want to … protect (illegal) activity from 44 years ago.”
“What’s the harm of looking (at the new evidence)?” he added. “When did justice leave the process so we let our rules blind us to what we all can see?”
In an interview with The Clay Cane Show on SiriusXM Urban View, Lau said that Long was pointed out by the victim as being the rapist because she testified “he was the only one in the courtroom that looked remotely similar to the person who had attacked her.”
Lau also said that the victim, who died in 2016, initially told the police that the attacker was “yellow,” which is slang for high yellow or light skinned. Lau said she “never mentioned any facial hair on her attacker” and Long had a mustache and a beard.
Lau asserted, “This trial was really drawn on racial lines, immediately.”
As Long and Lau await a decision from the court, which could take months, Governor Roy Cooper has the power to commute Long’s sentence now.
Lau explained that they’ve asked the Democratic governor to do this “in light of the significant evidence of wrongdoing and misconduct in the case, the actual innocence of Mr. Long and, quite frankly, because he served 44 years for a rape conviction on the basis of little to no evidence.”
Lau added, “We are happy to continue to make every effort to prove Mr. Long’s innocence in court… That said, going through the courts takes time and the governor could end this injustice immediately, if he would just commute Mr. Long.”
SiriusXM radio host Clay Cane tweeted Governor Cooper saying, “If Black Lives Matter to you, release Ronnie Long. As you know, he was convicted by an all-white jury of raping a white woman in 1976. #FreeRonnieLong SHOW US you care about Black lives by freeing him. His lawyer is pleading for you to do the right thing.”
Long remains imprisoned at the Albemarle Correctional Institute and Lau said he hopes to be released to see his 89-year-old mother before she passes away. A “Free Ronnie Long” petition was started on Change.org calling on Cooper to commute Long’s sentence. It has received over 12,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
You can check out a clip of Lau’s interview with SiriusXM below.