RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a man convicted in 1976 of rape had his Constitutional rights violated, according to the court’s decision.

Ronnie Long’s lawyer, Jamie Lau, said the decision means the district court is ordered to decide on the question of his innocence.

Long has spent 44 years in prison after being convicted by an all-white jury. Part of the appeal for his case includes that none of the fingerprints nor hair samples at the scene matched Long.

Read the 125-page decision

“Now it is a fact that Ronnie has been incarcerated for 44 years in violation of his rights,” Lau wrote in an email.

The decision is “not an immediate release, but huge step in that direction. We will continue to seek his immediate release in state court,” Lau added.

Lau and the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic have been fighting for Long’s release, especially given his risk for serious health complications should he contract COVID-19. Many have been pushing for Gov. Roy Cooper to commute his sentence.

Results of 43 fingerprints from the scene weren’t shared with his defense. It wasn’t until 2015 that his attorneys learned that none of the prints matched Long.

There was also a leather jacket the victim said she scratched heavily to the point her fingernails bent backwards. Long’s jacket showed no scratches. The rape kit was lost, too. All of these details were suppressed. Even his skin tone and hair color didn’t match the description.

“It’s really heartbreaking, you know? They took his life,” Long’s wife, AshLeigh, told CBS 17 in May. “And it wasn’t just his life they took. He has a son, his parents (and) he has siblings. Now only his mother and one sister are still living. He missed out on being with his family for 44 years. Everything that we do, that we take for granted, I mean he’s been in longer than I’ve been alive. It’s just absurd.”