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North Carolina man settles for millions after wrongful conviction, 44 years in prison

Ronnie Long stands in a hallway at the Albemarle Correctional Institution in Albemarle, east of Charlotte, N.C., in 2007.
Peter Weinberger
/
AP
Ronnie Long stands in a hallway at the Albemarle Correctional Institution in Albemarle, east of Charlotte, N.C., in 2007.

CONCORD, N.C. — A man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 44 years has reached a $25 million combined settlement with a central North Carolina city and the state of North Carolina involving a lawsuit accusing authorities of misconduct, the man's lawyers said Tuesday.

The settlement, which will end a wrongful incarceration lawsuit filed by attorneys for Ronnie Wallace Long in 2021, also included a public written apology from the city of Concord for its role in his imprisonment. The city, located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Charlotte, has agreed to pay $22 million of the settlement.

"We are deeply remorseful for the past wrongs that caused tremendous harm to Mr. Long, his family, friends, and our community," the city's statement read. "While there are no measures to fully restore to Mr. Long and his family all that was taken from them, through this agreement we are doing everything in our power to right the past wrongs and take responsibility."

Long, now 68, was a young Black man living in Concord when he was accused of raping a white woman. An all-white jury in Cabarrus County that Long's attorneys said was handpicked by local law enforcement leaders convicted Long of burglary and rape in 1976. At age 21, Long received two life sentences.

Long was helped for years in his criminal case appeal by a wrongful convictions clinic at Duke University's law school. Long's attorneys had said that more than 40 fingerprints collected from the scene were never shared and did not match Long's. Semen samples also were never disclosed to the defense. They later disappeared.

In August 2020, a federal appeals court ordered a new hearing for Long in his effort to obtain relief. Almost immediately, his conviction was vacated and Long was released from prison. Gov. Roy Cooper later that year granted him a full pardon of innocence.

A few months later, a state commission awarded Long $750,000 — by law the state's top compensation for victims of wrongful incarceration. He then sued in federal court in Raleigh, and in part accused Concord police officers of "extraordinary misconduct" that led to his wrongful conviction and imprisonment in violation of his civil rights.

As part of the settlement, Long also received $3 million from the State Bureau of Investigation "as a result of the SBI's role in hiding evidence from Mr. Long and his legal team that proved his innocence," a news release from his attorneys in the lawsuit said. An SBI spokesperson didn't immediately respond Tuesday to an email and text seeking comment.

The city of Concord also said Tuesday it "acknowledges and accepts responsibility for the significant errors in judgment and willful misconduct by previous city employees that led to Long's wrongful conviction and imprisonment."

While Long's attorneys described the monetary payments as one of the largest wrongful conviction settlements nationwide, they said the city's statement was extremely important to their client.

"This result speaks to the magnitude of injustice that occurred in Mr. Long's case," said Chris Olson, one of his lawyers in the lawsuit, adding the "apology goes a long way in helping Mr. Long heal."

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