Ronnie Long, North Carolina man who spent 44 years in prison after wrongful conviction, awarded $25M settlement

Ronnie Long, North Carolina man who spent 44 years in prison after wrongful conviction, awarded $25M settlement

Thao Nguyen
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Historic settlement reached in Ronnie Long wrongful conviction caseLong was convicted of rape of a “prominent white woman” despite no physical evidence connecting him to the rape and burglary in 1976.unbranded – Newsworthy

A North Carolina man who served more than 44 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in 1976 has reached a historic $25 million combined settlement in a civil lawsuit, his attorneys said Tuesday.

Ronnie Long, 68, settled a civil lawsuit against the city of Concord, North Carolina, about 25 miles northeast of Charlotte, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, according to Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Long’s total settlement includes $22 million from the city and a previous $3 million settlement with the State Bureau of Investigation.

The clinic, which represents Long, said the settlement is the second-largest wrongful conviction settlement ever recorded. The settlement puts an end to the wrongful incarceration lawsuit that was filed by Long’s attorneys in 2021 and also included a public apology from the city of Concord.

Sonya Pfeiffer, one of Long’s attorneys, noted the rare apology and told USA TODAY that it was crucial for Long’s healing process and vital to the settlement. The city acknowledged Tuesday its responsibility for the “significant errors in judgment and willful misconduct by previous city employees that led to Long’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment.”

“We are deeply remorseful for the past wrongs that caused tremendous harm to Mr. Long, his family, friends, and our community,” the Concord City Council said in a statement. “While there are no measures to fully restore to Mr. Long and his family all that was taken from them, through this agreement we are doing everything in our power to right the past wrongs and take responsibility.”

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What happened to Ronnie Long?

Long, who is Black, was convicted by an all-white jury in 1976 for the rape of a “prominent white woman” in Concord, according to the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. The jury had been selected by local law enforcement leaders, who removed potential Black jurors from the jury pool, the clinic said.

Despite no physical evidence connecting Long to the rape and burglary, he was accused of, his attorneys said the prosecution used the victim’s identification of Long as their main piece of evidence.

But the prosecution’s evidence “was the product of a suggestive identification procedure arranged by the police to target Long, who did not match her original description of the assailant as a ‘yellow or really light-skinned Black male,'” the clinic said.

Evidence collected from the crime scene and a local hospital, including more than 40 fingerprints that did not match Long’s and a rape kit, were not shared with the defense, according to the clinic. At the time of trial, Concord Police Department officers gave false testimony about the evidence.

Long, 21 at the time, received two life sentences. After serving 44 years, 3 months and 17 days in prison, he was released in 2020.

‘He can never get this time back’

Long had appealed his case in February 2020 and a federal appeals court ruled that Long’s due process rights were violated at his trial, according to the clinic. Long’s conviction was then vacated and he was released from prison on Aug. 27, 2020.

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Later that year, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper granted him a full pardon of innocence. In 2021, a state commission awarded Long $750,000 as compensation for victims of wrongful incarceration. He then sued in federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina, The Associated Press reported.

“No amount of money will ever compensate Ronnie Long for the 44 years he spent incarcerated and the indifference of numerous elected officials who fought to keep him incarcerated despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence,” Jamie Lau, a Duke Law clinical professor and Long’s criminal attorney, said in a statement Tuesday.

“While he was in prison his parents passed away; he missed birthdays, graduations, funerals, and other important events that mark a person’s life,” Lau added. “He can never get this time back.”

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Exonerations across the U.S.

Since 1989, there have been over 3,400 exonerations, where exonerated people spent more than 31,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

The number of exonerations has also grown by almost 70% since 2017 — 3,200 compared to 1,900 — the registry said in its 2022 report on wrongful convictions in the United States.

The report noted racial disparities in major crime categories and reported that Black people comprise 53% of the 3,200 exonerations listed in the registry. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, false accusations and faulty forensics are some of the main causes of wrongful convictions.

“Judging from exonerations, innocent Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes,” the report added.

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