Ronnie Long, a North Carolina man who spent nearly four-and-a-half decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, was finally freed on Thursday.
Long's attorney, Jamie Lau, broke the news of his release via Twitter on Wednesday. Long, 64, was released after the state of North Carolina filed a motion in federal court seeking to vacate his 1976 conviction.
"They will never ever, never ever ever, lock me up again," Long told reporters after he was freed from the Albemarle Correctional Institution. "This is real. I'm going to try to enjoy every minute of it."
Convicted by All-White Jury
Long was about 20 years old when he was accused of raping the 54-year-old widow Sarah Judson Bost at knifepoint in her home in Concord on the evening of April 25, 1976.
Two weeks after the attack, detectives said they had a hunch that the attacker might have been among defendants that were going to be in court that day and asked Bost to go to the county courthouse, according to records. When Long was called regarding a separate trespassing case, the victim said she recognized his voice.
She later singled him out from a photo line-up as he was the only one wearing a leather jacket similar to the one the rapist wore and later testified saying she picked him because he looked remotely similar to her attacker of all the people in the line-up that day.
Bost had also originally described her attacker as a "light-colored" Black man, which Long is not. He was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree rape and first-degree burglary.
Evidence Hidden From Defense
Lau, a professor with the Duke Law Innocence Project, said that forensic evidence implicating another suspect was not shared with the defense by the state and that police "perjured themselves" during Long's trial.
Lau said the defense did not know there were 43 fingerprints found at the crime scene and none of them matched Long. Moreover, hair samples recovered from the scene also did not link Long to the crime. They were also unaware that a rape kit with evidence, including semen samples, was taken from Bost. The evidence later went missing.