Ronnie Long spent 44 years in prison serving time for a crime that he did not commit. Now after settling a civil lawsuit, the 68-year-old is going to receive $25 million, which is “the second-largest wrongful conviction settlement ever,” CNN reports.
Along with the settlement, the city of Concord, North Carolina also issued a public written apology to Long. “We are deeply remorseful for the past wrongs that caused tremendous harm to Mr. Long, his family, friends, and our community,” the city wrote.
“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,” the city’s statement continued.
One of Long’s attorneys, Chris Olson said “This result speaks to the magnitude of injustice that occurred in Mr. Long’s case,” adding that the city’s “apology goes a long way in helping Mr. Long heal.”
In 1976, an all-white jury convicted Long of raping a “prominent white woman” in Concord. According to the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, “[t]he jury had been selected by local law enforcement leaders, who removed potential Black jurors from the jury pool.”
There was not a single shred of physical evidence that connected Long to either the rape or burglary. There were more than 40 fingerprints and a rape kit collected at the crime scene, and neither matched Long. Additionally, “[a]t the time of trial, Concord Police Department officers gave false testimony about the evidence.”
The prosecution still pressed on with the victim’s identification of Long as their key evidence. Not surprisingly, this 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.’”
At 21 years old, the judge handed down two life sentences to Long. He served “44 years, 3 months, and 17 days in prison.” He was finally released in 2020.
Jamie Lau, Long’s criminal attorney and clinical professor at Duke Law said, “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.”
“While he was in prison his parents passed away; he missed birthdays, graduations, funerals, and other important events that mark a person’s life,” said Lau. “He can never get this time back.”
A study on wrongful convictions conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative found that race plays a large part in why this happens. “The report, Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 2022, reviewed the cases of 3,200 innocent defendants exonerated in the U.S. since 1989 and found that Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes. This is true across all major crime categories except for white collar crime.”