U.S. Court of Appeals remands Long’s case back to district court
After 44 years of serving time for a crime he has always maintained he did not commit and for which forensic evidence has pointed to his innocence, Concord native Ronnie Long, who resides in Albemarle Correctional Institution, received some welcome news Monday afternoon.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has remanded his case back to district court for further proceedings, which could eventually lead to his long-awaited freedom.
“Today, the Court remands to give the State yet another opportunity to disclose the evidence it should have disclosed nearly half a century ago,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge Roger Gregory along with seven other judges joined. “Based on the record in this case over the last fifteen years, I would not be surprised if more evidence does turn up. But since the evidence is sufficient today to grant Mr. Long the relief he has so long pursued, I would not wait for further proceedings on remand.”
Long, 64, has been in prison since 1976 for the rape and burglary of a white woman in Concord, though it’s since come to light that police withheld evidence — including 43 fingerprints taken from the scene that didn’t match Long’s — that could have changed the outcome of the case. Long, who is Black, was tried by an all-white jury with the only evidence against him being the testimony of the survivor.
Long has been working with his lawyer Jamie Lau, who is part of Duke University’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, since 2015 to try and persuade the courts to reexamine his case.
Long’s case has attracted state and national attention over the years. A letter was recently sent to Gov. Roy Cooper from 16 state representatives from across North Carolina urging him to commute Long’s sentence. A Change.org petition for Long has garnered almost 40,000 signatures.
Earlier in the day, Lau filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Durham Superior Court, calling for Long’s immediate release from custody “to mitigate the harm to his health and risk of death he faces as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” according to a media advisory.
“It’s super huge,” his wife Ashley Long said of the news from the Fourth Circuit. “It means the State Judge is more likely to release him from bond.”
She added: “It also means he’s closer to freedom.”
Long’s case was held in front of the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on May 7 and, per the advisory, “the State of North Carolina finally conceded that evidence was withheld from Long at trial and that officers testified about the evidence in a misleading manner.”
Long completed an affidavit in May describing his experience inside ACI as part of a broader lawsuit filed against Cooper and the Department of Public Safety. He wrote that “being under these conditions naturally subjects us to this virus if anyone in our unit is carrying it.”
ACI has 182 inmates who have tested positive for the virus and three who have died, making it one of the worst outbreaks among state prisons. At least 36 staff members have also contracted the virus, according to DPS spokesman John Bull.
In a July interview, Long said the inmates at ACI “don’t mean nothing to nobody,” and that “we’re a number, we’re a count.” (See https://www.thesnaponline.com/2020/08/05/ronnie-long-says-he-was-wrongly-convicted-of-1976-rape/ )
Long suffers from hypertension, high cholesterol and acid reflux.
Thacker addressed the fact that police officers hid evidence from Long “despite knowing that doing so could lead directly to Mr. Long’s death.” She writes that “such an action is repugnant in any context. But it takes on a particularly sinister meaning here, given our country’s historical treatment of Black men accused of raping white women.”
“Forty-four years is an unconscionably long period to wait for justice,” Thacker wrote at the end of her opinion. “It is time.”