Swell in racial justice movements drives push to free NC man appealing wrongful rape conviction

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Ronnie Long, convicted of rape in 1976, continues to serve his prison sentence at the Albemarle Correctional Institution. It’s been 44 years since his conviction. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard his case in early May.

Lawyers with the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic have been representing Long after learning evidence that could help prove his innocence was withheld from his defense team.

“It’s just a lot of anxiety. (We are) hoping that we can get him out because COVID has now reached his prison, as well,” said his wife, AshLeigh Long. So, that’s a big concern of ours.”

It took seven years to reach 5,000 supporters when Long made the MoveOn.org petition for her husband. Then, after George Floyd’s death, she began a Change.org petition. It reached more than 10,000 supporters in a few days. She said recent events surrounding racial justice have raised awareness for her husband’s case.

“And (they) see that him having an all-white jury did actually matter in this case,” Long said. “It was not a jury of his peers. And the police misconduct. Because I think that, up until this point, a lot of people were very skeptical, we were arguing with Ronnie’s innocence. And now they’re king of like, ‘Oh, they do this, don’t they?'”

Police were found to have withheld fingerprints and physical evidence that could have led to a not-guilty verdict. But, in 1976, 24 hours of cable news and social media weren’t even concepts.

“I continue telling people that the only difference is that we have a human population that has grown. We have smartphones, we have the Internet — all of these injustices have been going on for hundreds of years,” Long said.

Her petition calls for the state to do more to find the person who is guilty and to prove Ronnie Long’s innocence.

“So, hopefully it really opens people’s eyes to Ronnie’s injustice,” AshLeigh Long said.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s office said the “case is pending active litigation that our office is involved in. We cannot comment or share information on details related to it.”

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