Coronavirus and courts: NC man convicted of rape to have appeal heard virtually due to pandemic

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Ronnie Long was convicted in 1976 of raping a 54-year-old woman who was described at the time as the wife of an executive at the textile plant Cannon Mills in Concord. It was discovered decades later that none of the fingerprints or hair samples collected at the scene matched Long.

Another piece of key evidence was Long’s leather jacket. It didn’t show any scratches the victim said she made as she fought off her attacker.

“The FBI had examined that jacket and found no markings whatsoever on that jacket related to the crime, and that was suppressed from Long,” said Jamie Lau with Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic. “They put the giant jacket under a microscope to look for anything that would be evidence connecting Mr. long to the crime and found nothing. Officers lied about the results of testing.”

(Courtesy of Fox 46 Charlotte)

The United States Fourth Circuit of Appeals will hear the case Thursday, but will do so virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s certainly unprecedented, given that it will be new for everyone involved, including the judges and council for both sides. However, we look forward to having the opportunity to present Mr. Long’s case in front of the Fourth Circuit,” Lau said.

“It’s been a long time coming and we’ve been preparing just as if we were going to be appearing in person in the Fourth Circuit.”

Long’s guilty verdict by an all=white jury led hundreds of people to demonstrate. He has claimed his innocence for 44 years. While lawyers won’t be able to make their arguments face-to-face, they are still confident because of the new evidence of wrongdoing by law enforcement.

“The magnitude of the suppressed evidence, the significance of Mr. Long’s case, the fact that evidence shows that he’s innocent — I don’t think any of that will be lost on the judges as they’re reviewing the record,” Lau said. “So, I’m confident that the strength of the record will alleviate some of that lack of personal connection.”

A live audio feed of the proceedings will be made available to the public.

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