Ronnie Long’s fight for justice isn’t over.
After serving 44 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the 65-year-old Black man received $750,000 in restitution—the maximum amount North Carolina pays to victims of wrongful incarceration. Long argues that amount doesn’t nearly make up for everything he lost.
“Ain’t no way in hell that you put me in the penitentiary and then tell me what I’m worth,” he told Charlotte Observer. “These people were trying me for my life, man. Do you understand that? They were trying me for my life, and then they took evidence and destroyed it.”
Long was sentenced to 80 years in prison in 1976 after an all-white jury wrongfully convicted him of raping a 54-year-old white woman. Long maintained his innocence throughout the following decades and relentlessly tried to have his conviction overturned. Decades later, a judge allowed investigators and prosecutors to review biological evidence from the crime scene—evidence that was reportedly hidden during the 1976 trial.
Investigators found that the hair samples and clothing fibers collected at the scene did not match Long’s. There were also 43 fingerprints collected during the investigation; testing confirmed none of those prints belonged to Long. The father was ultimately freed in summer 2020 and received a pardon from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in December.
“Fair? What’s fair?,” Long told the Observer. “Ask yourself that question when these people took away your 20s, your 30s, your 40s, your 50s and they started in on your 60s … Everything that’s happened here ain’t being overlooked.”
He continued, “Hell no, I ain’t satisfied… You wouldn’t be either, if you were in my position. You wouldn’t be either.”