Black Man Freed From Prison 44 Years After 'Wrongful Rape Conviction'
A man who was wrongfully convicted of rape has been released from jail after 44 years behind bars.
In 1976, Ronnie Long was given a life sentence after being found guilty by an all-white jury of burglary and the rape of a 54-year old white woman in Concord, North Carolina.
However, his case was vacated after the state of North Carolina filed a motion in federal court opposing his conviction.
Speaking about his case, US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephanie Thacker said that since Long, now 64, was convicted "a trickle of post-trial disclosures has unearthed a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence".
Judge Thacker said that vital evidence, including semen samples and fingerprints from the crime scene, were purposely withheld by police.
Long's attorney, Jamie Lau, is a law professor at Duke University and a faculty adviser for the Duke Law Innocence Project.
He told CNN that police deception was pivotal in Long's conviction.
"Because of the deceit that occurred at trial, Ronnie and his counsel at the time didn't have the benefit of that evidence to present to the jury," he told the publication.
"So he's been wrongly incarcerated for 44 years.
More Like ThisMore Like This
"The cards were heavily stacked against him and a large part of that was the racial dynamics in North Carolina in the South, and in particular Concord, North Carolina, in 1976."
The view of federal judges was that Long was imprisoned in no small part because of the colour of his skin.
Judge James Wynn of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: "Mr. Long, a black man, was tried in 'small town' 1970s North Carolina by an all white jury for the rape of the white widow of a prominent local business executive."
Long's release from prison does not, however, mean his charges have been dismissed.
According to reports, this is a decision that will be taken by the lower courts.
But while it is not certain they will be, Long's lawyer, Lau, sees no reason why the charges will not be overturned.
He said: "There's literally no evidence of Ronnie's responsibility for this crime."
Following his release, Long was seen walking out of prison with his belongings, and raised his hands to the crowds that gathered outside, embracing his family.
He said: "It's been a long road, but it's over with. It's over with now."
Featured Image Credit: PA