Cooper grants pardon of innocence to Long, four others

Gov. Roy Cooper has granted Pardons of Innocence to five men including Concord native Ronnie Long, who spent 44 years in prison for a rape he says he didn’t commit, according to a press release from the governor’s office Thursday.

“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,” Cooper said.

In 1976, Long was convicted of rape by an all-white jury and sent to prison. He consistently maintained his innocence over the years while a growing body of forensic evidence — including 43 fingerprints taken from the scene that didn’t match Long’s — only bolstered his case.

For the past two and a half years, Long, who’s 64, had been a prisoner at Albemarle Correctional Institution before being released in late August after the state vacated his sentence.

Aside from Long, the other men Cooper pardoned were Teddy Lamont Isbell Sr., Damian Miguel Mills, Kenneth Manzi Kagonyera and Larry Jerome Williams Jr.

The pardons make the men eligible to file a claim under state law that allows compensation to people wrongly convicted of felonies. In North Carolina, a person who gets a pardon of innocence is eligible for $50,000 for each year they were in prison, with a maximum of $750,000 total from the state.