Ronnie Long receives best Christmas present ever from Gov. Cooper

Ronnie Long

Ronnie Long receives best Christmas present ever from Gov. Cooper
December 30
12:30 2020

For the first time in more than 40 years, Ronnie Long celebrated the holidays as a free man. And just a few days before Christmas, Long, who spent 44 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, received the gift he’s been waiting years for, an official pardon from Gov. Roy Cooper. 

The announcement of Long’s pardon came on Thursday Dec. 17. The pardon makes him eligible to file a claim under a North Carolina law that allows compensation to persons wrongly convicted of felonies. Long was one of five men who received pardons. The other men were: Teddy Isbell, Damian Mills, Kenneth Kagonyera and Larry Williams. 

In a statement released after he signed the pardons, Cooper said, “We must continue to work to reform our justice system and acknowledge when people have been wrongly convicted. I have carefully reviewed the facts in each of these cases and, while I cannot give these men back the time they served, I am granting them Pardons of Innocence in the hope that they might be better able to move forward in their lives.” 

Long was released from prison in August after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that due process rights were violated and sent the case back to  district court. Instead of a retrial, the State of North Carolina decided to no longer contest Long’s conviction. 

When he was only 19 years old, Long, who is Black, was charged with the assault and rape of a white woman in her home 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, a toboggan, and gloves. She told police her attacker came through an open window before pressing a knife against her neck and ripping her clothes off. 

After she was unable to pick her attacker out of a lineup, two weeks after the assault, 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.”

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. 

Despite having an alibi that placed him elsewhere at the time of the assault and no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, on Oct. 1, 1976, Long was sentenced to serve 80 years in prison.

In his opening arguments, Jamie Lau, executive director of the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic, who has been working on Long’s case since 2016, said the Concord Police Department deliberately suppressed evidence that proved Long’s innocence and pointed to another suspect. Lau said the Concord Police Department’s efforts to frame Long included the creation of a false police report and testifying falsely about the evidence they found at the crime scene.

“Suppressing the evidence prevented Long from presenting affirmative exculpatory evidence demonstrating that someone else was the assailant, not Mr. Long,” Lau continued. “A suspect hair was collected from the scene, fingerprints were collected from the scene, matches were collected from the scene. They were all tested and none of them were similar to Long. There were 43 fingerprints collected that didn’t match Long or the victim, pointing to someone else.”

After receiving word from Lau that he had been granted a pardon, Long raised his arms in the air and shouted “It’s over.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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