U.S. Court of Appeals denies Ronnie Long’s appeal

Ronnie Long

U.S. Court of Appeals denies Ronnie Long’s appeal
January 16
09:39 2020

After waiting patiently for nearly a year to hear back from the United States Court of Appeals, last week Ronnie Long, a N.C. man who has spent 43 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, finally got a verdict, but it wasn’t the one he wanted. The panel of three judges that presided over United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, ruled against Long. 

The 2-1 decision from the panel of three judges means Long, 64, will remain in prison and won’t have a re-trial for a crime he says he did not commit when he was only 19 years old. 

Long was charged with the assault and rape of a 54-year-old white woman in her home in Concord, N.C., on April 25, 1976. According to police reports, the victim was the widow of a top executive at Cannon Mills, a major textile company and employer in the area. The victim described her attacker as a “yellow-looking African American,” wearing a leather jacket. She told police her attacker came through an open window before pressing a knife against her neck and ripping her clothes off. 

Two weeks after the incident and after the victim was unable to pick her attacker out of a photo lineup, investigators with the Concord Police Department took the victim to the courthouse and told her that her attacker may or may not be in the courtroom, and asked her to identify anyone who looked “familiar.”

That day Long was in the courtroom to settle a minor trespassing charge, but as soon as he stood up wearing a leather jacket, the victim identified him as her attacker. She later picked Long’s photo out of a lineup where he was the only person wearing a leather jacket. 

Later that day, officers showed up to Long’s house and told him he had to go down to the station to sign papers relating to the trespassing charge and that he would be back shortly. Long hasn’t been home since. On October 1, 1976, despite not fitting the description of the attacker and having an alibi that placed him at home during the attack, an all-white jury, including several who had ties to Cannon Mills, condemned Long to serve two life sentences. 


Over the 43 years he’s been incarcerated, there have been several appeals filed on Long’s behalf, all to no avail. In 2016, Long’s case was turned over to the Duke University School of Law’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic that pushed for Long’s case to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals. 

Prior to the hearing last March, Jamie T. Lau, supervising attorney of the Duke Wrongful Conviction Clinic, said when he came across Long’s case, he saw someone who fell victim to backlash from the state in response to progress made in the 1960s. Lau said, “This system in North Carolina can wear you out and wear you down and that’s what they’ve been trying to do in Ronnie’s case.”

During the appeal, Lau’s team of more than 30 attorneys and other professionals argued that the unreliability of eye witness identification, the discovery of more than 40 fingerprints that did not match Long, and other important factors was enough evidence to at least warrant a re-trial, but on Wednesday, Jan. 8, the court decided they didn’t see it that way. 

In a statement released shortly after the verdict, Lau said he was disappointed in the verdict, but promised to continue to fight on Long’s behalf. He said, “Forensic test results favorable to Ronnie were hidden by State actors. Law enforcement officers lied under oath after misleading Ronnie’s trial lawyers and burying evidence that would have cast doubt on this misguided prosecution. 

“Ronnie’s conviction is not one that the Attorney General or the State of North Carolina should stand behind. This misconduct is simply indefensible. The absence of a full and fair hearing at which all of the evidence in the case could be considered is a taint on our criminal justice system that calls out for correction. The facts of the truth have been obscured for far too long,” Lau continued. “We will continue to fight on Ronnie’s behalf until he is free. There is no doubt in our minds that the day will come. At this time, we are carefully reviewing the opinion and considering all of Ronnie’s legal options.”

Currently Long is being held in the Albemarle Correctional Institute in New London, N.C. His projected release date is April 20, 2056; Long will be 100 years old. 

For more information on Long’s case, visit “Free Ronnie Long” on Facebook. 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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