CONCORD, N.C. — A Concord man finally gets his day in court Thursday – and a chance at going free. Ronnie Long has spent 44 years in prison for a rape he says he didn’t commit and Thursday, federal judges will hear his case – but not in the usual way.
This is unprecedented – 15 judges- the full federal appeals court for the 4th Circuit - and the attorneys will all be taking part remotely.
This all to decide whether Long could go free after all these years.
When we went to talk to him in prison earlier this year, Long told us he still has hope.
“I got hope every day, that’s what keeps me surviving," Long previously said.
Long has been surviving for 44 years in prison for a rape he says he didn’t commit — and the evidence seems to show he’s telling the truth. WCNC went to prison to talk to him about the possibility of an appeal coming through. He said he thought one day he could get out.
On Thursday, Long‘s case is finally being heard.
Innocence project attorney Jamie Lau took long’s case five years ago – he could never have guessed he’d someday be getting ready to argue for long’s freedom – over the internet.
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"Five, six years ago if you had told me we'd be on the verge of having a hearing and a pandemic would shut things down I would not believe a word you were telling me," Lau said. "I would say it's straight from a science fiction novel.”
But we all know just how real it is. So Thursday, Lau will argue the case over the internet with 15 judges tuning in from home.
Lau will do a quick recap of the case and spend most of his 30 minutes answering questions from the judges.
“It comes down to the fact that the police department suppressed evidence that pointed to another perpetrator exculpating long," Lau said. "Had the jury had all the information in front of them they would have known long wasn’t the perpetrator and that law enforcement had information that pointed to another individual.”
Law enforcement also helped handpick the all-white jury that convicted Long.
“You talk about racial injustice, racial discrimination? It’s real," Long previously told WCNC. "As long as I keep chipping, one day I’m gonna walk out of here.”
“Mr. long is innocent," Lau added. "That evidence would have revealed that and its time the court finally reverse his conviction and Mr. Long is set free.”
Long said he's asking for the law to be applied fairly.
The hearing will be broadcast live, although the court’s ruling could take weeks or months. We’ve been told Long will not be able to hear the proceedings because of internet access at the prison.
WCNC asked the state for comment but they told us they could not comment on ongoing litigation.
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