CONCORD, N.C. — Saturday was a day for celebration in Concord, North Carolina — members of the Concord community held a parade welcoming home Ronnie Long after 44 years in prison for a rape he long said he was wrongfully convicted for.
Long was a 20-year-old man with a 3-year-old son when he was convicted of raping a 54-year-old woman. An all-White jury heard the case back in 1976, at a time when racial tensions ran high in Concord.
Judge Wynn, one of the 15 judges of the fourth circuit federal appeals court who heard arguments about whether to overturn Ronnie Long’s conviction previously said, “There were Black men being prosecuted wrongfully.”
Wynn grew up in Concord, where Long was convicted.
Jamie Lau, Long's attorney from the Innocence Project, says Long's appeal was based largely on the fact Concord Police detectives hid evidence that pointed to another suspect.
"The defendant did not receive a fair trial," Lau previously told WCNC Charlotte.
A federal appeals court ruled the state did violate Long’s rights when they didn’t take a closer look at the possibility he was innocent, pointing to a pattern of ‘extreme and continuous police misconduct.’
That ruling prompted the state to throw out his conviction.
Now in his 60s, Long is finally free — and the community threw a welcome home parade in his honor.
"It's really just a celebration in his community that he is free after all these years," said Brittany Evans, with Concord Civil Activists.
The event featured food trucks, vendors, and nonprofits, and took place in front of the Cabarrus County Courthouse.
"This is where he was actually on trial and where he 'supposedly' committed the crime was right down the road," Evans said.
Evans said she believes in Long's innocence, and that he should be compensated for losing a large chunk of his life.
"When he got arrested, 8-tracks were popular and now he's out here with iPhones," Evans said. "People should not be in prison for 44 years for crimes that were obviously not committed by them."
WCNC Charlotte's coverage timeline of the Ronnie Long case:
- November 2009: Concord man gets second day in court after 32 years
- March 2010: NC Supreme Court hears appeal from Concord man
- August 2014: Prison wedding for Concord lifer claiming innocence
- February 2020: Wrongfully convicted? Concord man has new hope for appeal after 44 years
- March 2020: Concord man serving for crime he says he didn't commit has to wait longer for appeal due to COVID-19
- April 2020: Update: Concord man claiming innocence will get his day in court — virtually
- May 2020: Concord man claiming innocence will get his day in court virtually on Thursday
- May 2020: 44 years later, Concord man's innocence argued in appeals court
- June 2020: 'We know this is a racial injustice' | Renewed plea to release Concord man claiming innocence
- July 2020: "I'm struggling to stay alive" | Concord man loses his mom while in prison and awaiting a decision on his freedom
- August 2020: 44 years later, federal appeals court rules the rights of Concord man were violated at trial
- August 2020: 'This is the epitome of injustice' | NC NAACP president calls for immediate release of Ronnie Long
- August 2020: 'I’ve been crying happy tears' | A man who maintained his innocence for 44 years to be freed from prison
- August 2020: Ronnie Long is now a free man after maintaining his innocence for 44 years
- August 2020: Ronnie Long's son was just 3 years old when his father was arrested. Now he's ready to make new memories
- August 2020: Wife: Ronnie Long wants to 'eat a steak first thing' after 44 years in prison, attorney plans to request pardon of innocence from governor
- August 2020: Cabarrus County won't retry Ronnie Long case, ending decades-long fight for freedom
- September 2020: 'I can’t get them 44 years back' | Ronnie Long, now free, facing new struggles