Wife of NC man who has spent 44 years behind bars for rape confident appeal will be successful

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Ronnie Long spent more than 40 years in prison, but a botched investigation may set him free. He was convicted in 1976 of rape and burglary. On Thursday, lawyers with the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic argued his case virtually to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

Arguments didn’t occur inside the courtroom because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Long and his wife, AshLeigh, met while he was in prison. Since then, she has spent most of her time fighting for his release.

“Ronnie is innocent. You know the evidence supports that and he needs to be freed. He’s an innocent man. His last 44 years in the state prison. North Carolina is going to pay for this,” AshLeigh said.

The evidence he refers to is extensive. 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.

“The ones that are still living, I can’t believe they would want to take this to the grave with them, you know? I guess they’re concerned about not ruining their reputation, but they’re not good people,” AshLeigh said of those responsible for the investigation.

The full panel of the Fourth Circuit has now heard the case. AshLeigh said she has no doubt the evidence should lead to his release, but she said the time lost will never be made up.

“It’s really heartbreaking, you know? They took his life,” AshLeigh said. “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.”

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