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Wrongfully convicted Black man walks free after 44 years in jail: 'It was breathtaking'

At 64, Ronnie Long is finally free after spending over four decades in jail for a crime North Carolina police falsely implicated him in.

Wrongfully convicted Black man walks free after 44 years in jail: 'It was breathtaking'
Image Source: (Left)Twitter/GenevieveWSOC9 (Right) Twitter/LauDurham

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, Racism

Ronnie Long, a Black man from North Carolina, spent over four decades in prison for a crime he did not commit. After 44 long years, a federal appeals court determined that he had been an unfortunate victim of "extreme and continuous police misconduct." Long, who has always maintained his innocence and is now 64 years old, was released unexpectedly last week when the State of North Carolina admitted it could no longer defend the case. The state requested a court to vacate his convictions. In his first interview since his release, Long said "it was breathtaking" to finally walk free, CBS News reports.



Lomg left a North Carolina prison on Thursday last week and was welcomed by friends and family who had never lost faith that he never committed the crime he was accused of. In May 1976, Long was falsely incriminated for allegedly breaking into a home in Concord, North Carolina, and raping a 54-year-old White woman named Sarah Bost. There was, at the time, no physical evidence to connect Long to the crime, yet he was sentenced to 80 years in prison after being deemed guilty by an all-White jury.



Long learned, after spending nearly three decades in jail, that Concord police investigators had tested a dozen pieces of evidence, all of which supported Long's innocence, but had hidden the results of these tests. Long's lawyer, Jamie Lau from the Duke University Law School's Wrongful Convictions Clinic, revealed in an interview with 48 Hours correspondent Erin Moriarty, that the defense did not know that there were 43 fingerprints and a hair found at the crime scene that didn't match Long's and that there had actually been a rape kit taken and evidence taken from the victim. Attorneys for the state argued that none of this evidence would have changed the original verdict. Therefore, Long remained in prison.



Thankfully, after years of fighting, he is finally free. When his attorney broke the news, Long responded, "'You serious? The state can't go back on their word? They gonna stick to what they say?" Additionally, he said about his release, "To be able to walk out of them gates without being supervised, it was breathtaking." Even though he can finally go back home, he said he felt as though the criminal justice system in North Carolina failed him. "I'm 64, going on 65," the former prisoner explained. "They took my life away from me when I was 20 years old. I ain't got nothing but memories. But yet, and still, you say the evidence collected in the case was immaterial?"




During a feature on CBS This Morning, Lau also informed his client that he received a dismissal from the Cabarrus County District Attorney's office, which makes him clear entirely. Now, Long has a ton of catching up to do. He hopes to spend time with his family, including his wife AshLeigh whom he married in 2014, and visit his parents' graves. "I know my mother and father died with a broken heart," he shared. "I'm gonna tell them now, when I visit the gravesite, 'Your son is clear.'" This story is not about a Black man who finally received justice—indeed it is about a Black man who was failed by the system meant to deliver justice to him.




The next step in Long's case is to ask North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper for a pardon of innocence, which will give him the right to collect money from a state fund that gives money to the wrongfully-convicted. In the meantime, there is an official GoFundMe established to help the 64-year-old out. You can donate here. Moreover, you can get involved to make sure others like Long do not become victims of this country's failing justice system. You can sign a petition set up by the Black Lives Matter movement to defund the police and make a donation to them as well. This supports their ongoing fight to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end White supremacy forever.


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