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Ronnie Long, a Black man who served 44 years in prison after he was wrongly convicted of raping a White woman in the 1970s, has settled with a central North Carolina city and the state of North Carolina, his lawyers said Tuesday.

Long, now 68, received two life sentences following a trial where an all-White jury in Cabarrus County, Concord, found him guilty of burglary and raping Sarah Judson Bost, then 54, at knifepoint in her home on the evening of April 25, 1976. Long was 21 at the time. 

However, Long never committed the crimes, and 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 for innocence.

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Long’s attorneys, from a wrongful convictions clinic at Duke University’s law school, said that no physical evidence tied Long to the rape and burglary — and 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.

His attorneys also argued that the chief of police and county sheriff inexplicably removed nearly all the Black potential jurors from the jury pool before summonses were issued, according to Duke Law.

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.

Charlotte, North Carolina aerial view

Now, the city of Concord, located about 25 miles northeast of Charlotte, has agreed to pay $22 million of the settlement. As part of the settlement, Long is also to receive $3 million from the State Bureau of Investigation for its role in 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 reads, according to The Associated Press.

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“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.”

The combined $25 million settlement represents the largest wrongful conviction settlement in North Carolina history.

Long’s attorneys said the city’s statement was extremely important to their client.

A map pinpoints Concord in North Carolina

“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.”

“Have we found justice in this case? Absolutely not,” Jamie Lau, Long’s criminal attorney, said in a statement, according to the Daily Mail.

“No amount of money will ever compensate Ronnie for all that he lost, but this is a big step forward for him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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