A North Carolina man who spent 44 years in prison for a rape he says he didn’t commit was freed Thursday.
Ronnie Long, 64, was a 20-year-old Black man living in Concord when he was accused of raping a white woman Sarah Judson Bost, then 54, at knifepoint in her home on the evening of the 25 April 1976.
Long was sentenced to 80 years in prison for the first-degree rape of Bost and first-degree burglary – by an all-white jury, NBCNews reported.
Despite decades of appeals to overturn the conviction, and though DNA evidence obtained throughout the years pointed to his innocence, he remained in jail.
The DNA evidence in question was that hair samples and clothing fibers didn’t match those of Long’s. According to news reports, the evidence was not shared with the defense at the time of the trial.
In 2015, it was revealed that 43 fingerprints taken from the scene ‘excluded’ the prisoner as the source of the prints. A request for a new trial was still rejected by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals the same year.
‘They will never ever, never ever ever, lock me up again,’ Long told reporters after he was freed yesterday, according to NBCNews. ‘This is real. I’m going to try to enjoy every minute of it.’
Ronnie Long’s attorney broke the news of his impending release via Twitter on Wednesday, the Charlotte Observer reported.
‘The state said it will ask the district court to enter a writ vacating Ronnie’s conviction. In short, Ronnie Long is coming home!’ lawyer Jamie Lau wrote.
Long’s conviction was then vacated on Thursday and he was released from the Albemarle Correctional Institution shortly after 5 pm, news outlets reported.
Earlier this week, a federal appeals court had granted a new hearing for Long.
A judge had criticized North Carolina for defending Long’s conviction despite the possibility that investigators withheld evidence.
A motion filed by North Carolina’s Attorney General’s Office said that ‘interests of justice call for immediately remanding the case to the district court.’
At the time, detectives said they thought the suspected rapist might have been among defendants in court on other charges the same day. Long was in court for a trespassing case and Bost, the victim, said she recognized his voice, NBC reported.
Long was put in a photo lineup as the only man wearing a leather jacket, which was allegedly what was worn on the night of the attack, according to court records.
Long had an alibi for the time of the assault. His mother, who he lived with at the time, and the mother of his child said he was on a group phone call with them.
He was getting ready to attend a party in Charlotte at the time of the assault, they said.
The 4th Circuit opinion, led by Judge Stephanie D. Thacker, cited ‘a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence.’
A main argument by prosecutors to the jury, it said, was that ‘police acted honestly.’