Ronnie Long finally gets his day in court

Ronnie Long

Ronnie Long finally gets his day in court
April 30
03:00 2020

Case to be heard in Fourth District Court of Appeals on May 7

Ronnie Long, the N.C. man who has spent more than 40 years in prison for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit, will finally have his day in court. Last week it was announced that Long’s case will be heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeals on Thursday, May 7. 

Here’s what we know about Long’s case and the many appeals that led to him being heard by one of the highest courts in the country. 

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 same 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. 

Since 1976, several appeals have been filed on Long’s behalf, all to no avail. But when it was discovered that none of the fingerprints recovered from the crime scene matched Long to the crime, Long’s case caught the attention of Jamie Lau and the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic. And in 2019 they took over Long’s case. 

That same year Long’s case was heard before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. Ahead of the appeal case, Lau, who serves as executive director of the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic, said, “It was obvious law enforcement officers who investigated the case lied to conceal information that would’ve proved Long was innocent.” 

Despite the evidence weighing heavily in his favor, the three-panel of judges voted 2-1 against granting Long a re-trial, but it wasn’t all bad news. The lone vote in Long’s favor, made by Judge Stephanie Thacker, left the door open for an appeal to the full Fourth Circuit.

In her dissent, Judge Thacker said, “For more than 43 years, Ronnie Wallace Long has been in prison for a rape that he has consistently maintained he did not commit. From the time of this conviction until now, a trickle of post-trial disclosures has unearthed a troubling and striking pattern of government suppression of material evidence, in violation of Appellant’s due process rights pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).”

On March 16, Long received word that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit voted to hear Long’s case, but with restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it was unclear at the time when the case would be heard until now. 

As mentioned earlier, Long’s case will be heard on May, 7. The hearing is expected to begin at 9 a.m. and due to COVID-19, the hearing will be conducted remotely. Arguments can be heard live by visiting the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on YouTube. 

For more information on Ronnie Long, visit or “Free Ronnie Long” on Facebook.  

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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