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Ronnie Long wins $22 million settlement from Concord for wrongful conviction

Ronnie Long and his wife, Ashley Long.
Free Ronnie Long
Ronnie Long and his wife, Ashley Long.

The city of Concord will pay $22 million to a man wrongfully imprisoned in the 1970s for a rape he did not commit.

In announcing the settlement Tuesday, the city also issued a statement apologizing to Ronnie Long and acknowledging "significant errors in judgment and willful misconduct by previous city employees that led to Long's wrongful conviction and imprisonment."

"We are deeply remorseful for the past wrongs that caused tremendous harm to Mr. Long, his family, friends, and our community," the statement said. "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 settlement is in addition to $3 million paid to Long by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. The combined $25 million represents the largest wrongful conviction settlement in North Carolina history and one of the largest wrongful conviction settlements nationwide, according to Long's attorneys.

Long was convicted in 1976 by an all-white jury of raping a prominent white woman in Concord. It wasn't until 2015 that his attorneys discovered the Concord Police Department had evidence that could have exonerated him, including fingerprints collected at the scene that did not match Long's.

In August 2020, Long was released from prison after a judge vacated his conviction, finding his constitutional rights had been violated and that the case had involved a "troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence."

Long had served 44 years, three months and 17 days behind bars at the time of his release. Later that year, Long was formally pardoned by Gov. Roy Cooper and granted $750,000 in restitution from the state.

Attorney Chris Olson, who represented Long in his lawsuit against Concord, said Tuesday he was pleased with the settlement's terms, and the city's statement.

"I am so glad that finally at long last Ronnie Long's name is clear," Olson said. "It's basically a lifetime that these officers took from him and they in large part destroyed a good, honest, hardworking family."

Olson said Long, who wasn't available for comment, was continuing to adjust to life outside prison, and was pursuing advocacy work alongside his wife, Ashley Long. Olson said Long planned to use some of the settlement funds for medical bills.

"After decades of poor medical care, he has some struggles now, but now with the settlement, he is in a financial position to care for himself without worrying about how to pay for it."

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal
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