Attorneys from the Innocence Project present case for release of Ronnie Long.
CONCORD, NC – Ronnie Long has spent 44 years of an 80-year sentence in prison for a 1976 rape and burglary he says he didn’t commit.
On October 1, 1976, despite not fitting the description of the attacker and having an alibi that placed him at home during the attack, an all-White jury, including several who had ties to Cannon Mills, condemned Long to serve two life sentences. And decades later, Long’s trial attorneys discovered police had hidden evidence that would have helped Long’s case.
The evidence and all of these details were suppressed. Long’s lawyer says the victim’s identification of him as the perpetrator—the only real evidence presented—was questionable at best.
On the day in question, April 25, 1976, Ronnie was with friends planning their high school reunion. As a typical teen Ronnie played basketball, football, and baseball and participated in school activities. Concord Police Department received a call around 9:30 p.m. reporting a forced entry at the home of then-54-year-old Sarah Bost, the widow of a top executive at Cannon Mills, a major textile company and employer in the area in Concord, a suburb of Charlotte.
According to police reports, the victim described her attacker as a “yellow-looking African American,” wearing a leather jacket. She told police her attacker came through an open window before pressing a knife against her neck and ripping her clothes off. The man then escaped, leaving Bost unclothed, but she still ran to her neighbor’s house and “told her neighbor an African American man had just raped her.” When Bost was unable to give the intruder any money, the man “became angry, cursed her, threw her to the ground, ripped her clothes off, beat and raped her.” The victim said she scratched heavily into the jacket to the point her fingernails bent backwards.
The Concord Police Department led the investigation, which included a full search of the house. In an interview Mrs. Bost gave a detailed description of what she perceived as her attacker’s height, build, facial hair, and clothing. Two weeks following the incident, and after the victim was unable to pick her attacker out of a photo lineup, investigators with the Concord Police Department took the victim to the courthouse and told her that her attacker may or may not be in the courtroom, and asked her to identify anyone who looked “familiar.”
That day Long was in the courtroom to settle a minor trespassing charge, but as soon as he stood up wearing a leather jacket, the victim identified him as her attacker. She later picked Long’s photo out of a lineup where he was the only person wearing a leather jacket. The victim said the man was light-skinned (Ronnie Long is dark-skinned).
Later that day, officers showed up at Long’s house and told him he had to go down to the station to sign papers relating to the trespassing charge and that he would be back shortly. Long hasn’t been home since.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to hear Long’s case, but with current restrictions in place due to COVID-19, it is uncertain when it will be heard. In a letter penned shortly after the appeal hearing was granted, Lau asked Governor Roy Cooper to release Long now. Lau noted that COVID-19 will soon make its way into state prisons and because of his age and pre-existing health conditions, Long is at high risk for contracting the virus.
At press time there has been no further action from the governor’s office.