CONCORD, N.C. -- Ronnie Wallace Long has grandkids who have never seen him outside of prison. In 1976, an all-white jury convicted Long of the rape of a prominent white widow, and he s been in prison ever since. But 20 friends and family of Long gathered on the sidewalk outside the Cabarrus County Courthouse Thursday morning to protest his innocence with placards market FREE RONNIE LONG .

Activist John C. Barnett, founder of a civil rights group named T.H.U.G (True Healing Under God) called for continued protests for Long, and Barnett says he will recruit others at a rally Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. at Charlotte s Marshall Park.

Long s son Carlos Spears was just two years old when his father went to prison.

You ve got cases like my daddy s coming up, Spears said. A double life sentence that s kind of ridiculous.

Long s case was racially charged from the beginning. As the jury delivered the verdict, all white police lined the courtroom. When protestors began chanting outside of the courtroom, police cleared the courthouse by swinging billy clubs and spraying tear gas.

What kind of justice could I receive? You understand what I m saying? Under these types of circumstances, Long told NBC Charlotte in a 2007 interview from prison.

Attorney after attorney has worked with Long to appeal his conviction and sentence all the way to the NC Supreme Court to no avail. The closest he came was losing a 3-3 tie, with one justice abstaining.

Concord police and the SBI either lost or threw out the rape kit, so there s no DNA to test in his case.

Lots of red flags in this case, Barnett said. Missing evidence, evidence that s so old. DNA is very challenging for us.

So the case came down to eyewitness identification-- the victim s word against Long, his mother and his girlfriend at the time who testified he was at home during the time of the break-in and brutal rape.

In a 2007 interview, Long s late father Ike cried as he said, I pray every night, all through the day that this will come to an end. That Ronnie will come home while me and his mother are living.

Ike Long died in October 2011. His son remains in prison 37 years after his conviction, longer than most men convicted of murder.

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