CONCORD, N.C. — After 44 long years, Ronnie Long walked out of prison Thursday afternoon a free man.
Shortly after his release, the newly-free man went back to his old neighborhood in Concord. In fact, the house Long went back to after his release was his birth home.
Long's family and friends, who were eagerly waiting for him, gave him a warm welcome back.
A longtime classmate of Ronnie Long was at his coming home celebration and said he had just talked with Long last week.
"It feels absolutely marvelous, his friend said. "In the words of Tony the Tiger, it feels great."
WCNC Charlotte also spoke exclusively with Long's one and only son, Anthony Spears.
Spears was just three years old when his father was arrested and told us he only has vague memories of his father before his time in prison. He said it's now time to make new memories.
"I might have a glitch in my head somewhere of him," Spears recalled, "I don't have too many memories of him."
Spears said he actually thought his father would be coming home on September 10th, so his release on Thursday was a welcomed surprise.
"I found out he was coming home like 15, 20 minutes ago," Spears said. "But right now, I'm ecstatic. I'm doing good."
Long spent more than 4 decades behind bars proclaiming his innocence. The State of North Carolina, which put him there and kept him there, finally agreed earlier this week when they filed to vacate Long's 1976 rape conviction.
Long said he and his attorneys have been fighting for this exact moment for over four decades.
“And I’m like, I’m speechless,” Long said. “I mean it’s magnificent. It don't get no better. This is what I’ve been working for. This is what I’ve been looking for."
Anthony Spears said he has always maintained a relationship with his father, even from prison.
"He'd tell me what to do from prison," Spears joked. "If he told me to do something, honestly I'd do it."
Spears told WCNC Charlotte that Ronnie Long became a grandfather behind bars and will soon become a great-grandfather.
"When he [Ronnie] gets here, he'll be able to make his grandaughter's baby shower," Spears said.
Before his father's arrival, Spears said he made a lot of upgrades and renovations to his home.
"I've been trimming trees, I just filled a hole up in my driveway with concrete because I know if he sees that he'll talk junk," Spears said jokingly.
When asked if he had any resentment when it came to losing his father for more than 40 years, Spears said that this is usually when he gets censored.
"Justice is slow," Spears said. "And I don't really have that much respect for it."
Spears said the first thing he's going to ask his father when he gets home is, "are you hungry? You wanna go get Wendys?"
RELATED: 'I’ve been crying happy tears' | A man who maintained his innocence for 44 years to be freed from prison
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