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Man convicted of rape, burglary hopes NC innocence commission will set him free

Posted November 26, 2014

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— Ronnie Long, 59, has spent his entire adult life in prison. Convicted in 1976 of burglary and rape in Concord, he lives in the Harnett Correctional Institution.

Long’s case is one of 20 being investigated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. No hearing date has been set, but he’s hoping the commission will decide he was wrongly convicted and release him.

“I'm innocent. I ain't committed no crime, and I've been confessing this ever since May 10, ’76,” he said. “I've been railroaded off to the penitentiary.”

The main evidence was the victim's identification of Long in a courtroom, an identification he says was seriously flawed. He says he was in the courtroom nearly two hours before the woman identified him.

Cabarrus County District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven stands by the conviction.

"If there was any question in my mind that we had the wrong person, I would do everything in my power to right the wrong,” she said.

For Long's attorneys, the wrong involves the State Bureau of Investigation’s testing on physical evidence they say exonerated their client, yet police never handed over the reports to the court.

“(I’m) disappointed that the system is supposed to be about justice (and) that it was just overlooked,” Long said.

Concord police declined to comment on the case. Much of the evidence from the case is gone, but Long's attorneys would like a hair found at the scene to be tested for DNA. Because the Commission's investigations are confidential, there is no way of knowing if Long's case will ever come to a hearing.

One inmate who does have a hearing scheduled for next month before the commission is Joseph Sledge. He has been in prison since 1977 for a double murder in Bladen County he says he didn't commit. His attorneys say long-lost evidence found just last year in a sheriff's department locker may be the key to setting him free.

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