Wrongly Convicted North Carolina Man Released After 44 Years in Prison
Forty-four years later, in August 2020, he walked out of the Albemarle Correctional Institution a free man and hugged what remained of his family after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled his rights were violated at his trial.
Long was 21 years old when the jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison. He continually insisted he was innocent. In 2005, attorneys discovered the evidence that was withheld. Apparently his postconviction motions were denied in the state courts, forcing him to seek relief in the federal courts.
Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote that “post-trial disclosures ha[ve] unearthed a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence.” That evidence included semen samples and fingerprints from the crime scene that did not match Long’s, which were deliberately withheld by law enforcement and officers who lied on the witness stand.
According to Jamie Lau, Long’s attorney and a law professor at Duke University, it was the deceit that occurred at Long’s trial that prevented his counsel from presenting the evidence to the jury. Lau also serves as a faculty adviser for the Duke Law Innocence Project, which helps people in situations like Long’s. After the Fourth Circuit sided with Long, the state vacated his conviction and released him.
Sadly, Long’s mother died shortly before his release. “That was my inspiration,” Long said, gesturing to his family. “I got my inspiration from them, and God. It felt good because I was getting feedback that I was loved and supported.”
Long is living off donations from a GoFundMe campaign established by his wife, Ashleigh. Long cannot collect anything from the state until Governor Roy Cooper pardons him. But in his four years in office, Cooper hasn’t pardoned anyone. And, even if Long is pardoned, the most money he can collect is $750,000.
But Long says, “As long as you got clothes on your back, roof over your head, food in your stomach – you don’t need a whole lot.” He does believe the state owes him an apology. “The state should apologize for what they did to me. I should be compensated. I can’t get my dad back, my mom, my two sisters. I can’t get them 44 years back.” Amen, Mr. Long. Amen.
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