Concord protesters call for the release of Ronnie Long from prison

Concord protesters call for the release of Ronnie Long from prison

CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV/CBS News) - Protesters in Concord are calling for the release of Ronnie Long, saying he’s an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted of rape 44 years ago. Long was 20 years old when he was arrested in Concord for the rape of a 54-year-old white woman in 1976.

A federal appeals court is expected to rule any day on whether to overturn the 44-year-old rape conviction.

Family and friends protested Thursday in the same city he was arrested in 44 years ago. They say he’s innocent and was wrongfully convicted. His sister, Lynda Smith, told WBTV that 44 years in jail is too long for an innocent man.

“Somebody just needs to open their eyes and see. Police hid the evidence, two police lied on the witness stand. Nothing points to him and he’s still there, seems like he should be home by now,” Smith said.

Lawyers for Long, who accuse investigators of lying about evidence, are trying to right what they say is a wrongful conviction.

Long, who is now 64 years old, told "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty that he never had a chance for a fair trial in what was back then a mostly segregated community.

Long was 20 years old in 1976 when he was arrested in Concord for the rape of Sarah Bost, a 54-year-old widow.

Lau said Long, who had been a talented high school athlete, was facing a minor trespassing charge when cops asked the victim to come to court that day.

But the victim had originally described her attacker as a “light-colored” Black man, which Long is not. And while a shoe print found outside the victim’s home had a similar tread, it could not be matched to shoes owned by Long. There was also clothing - including a black leather coat - found in Long’s car that looked like what the rapist wore.

At trial, Long didn’t take the stand, but several alibi witnesses testified to seeing him at the time of the rape. The all-White jury convicted Long of rape and burglary. He was given two life sentences.

Bost died believing that Long was the man who attacked her, but Lau said victims can convince themselves the wrong person was their attacker.

About 30 years after Long's conviction, his attorneys learned that investigators had tested more than a dozen pieces of evidence and had hidden the results.

The defense did not know there were 43 fingerprints found at the crime scene that didn't match Long, as well as a hair at the crime scene that did not match Long, Lau said. They also didn't know there was a rape kit with evidence taken from the victim.

But, in May, at a federal appeals court, the North Carolina attorney general's office argued that none of the evidence hidden at trial would have changed the verdict.

The North Carolina attorney general's office declined to talk about the pending case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is expected to rule soon.

Meanwhile, Long’s attorney is asking Governor Roy Cooper to commute his sentence and send him home. One of the detectives in Long’s case later went to prison for stealing checks.

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved. CBS News contributed to this report.