Concord Man Convicted of Rape 43 Years Ago Appeals Decision to Federal Court

CONCORD, NC – Ronnie Long has been behind bars for more than four decades. If three Federal Judges rule in his favor, the Concord native may soon walk free.

Long was convicted of burglary and rape in 1976 when he was 21. After losing his appeals to county and state courts, Long and his family are hoping a federal court will rule in his favor.

Nicole Haines, Long’s niece, reads over birthday cards he sent her children.

“I have bundles upstairs,” said Haines.

Each card is a precious memory of the man she’s only known as a state prisoner. Long was sent to jail a year before her birth.

“He takes his time and writes beautiful letters,” said Haines unraveling a three-page note.

Haines has been fighting for Long’s release since she met him in the early 1980s.

“The love has not dwindled,” said Haines.

A jury convicted Long of a brutal burglary and rape of a wealthy Concord woman in April of 1976.

He has maintained his innocence ever since.

Long’s conviction by an all white jury was mostly based on the victim’s eyewitness identification. Decades later, the state stands behind the jury’s decision.

Old newspaper clippings at the Cabarrus County Library show the outrage and protests following the verdict.

Long has appealed the decision several times over the last 43 years. He even turned down a plea deal along the way.

“I commend him. He is one of the strongest men I know,” said Haines.

A Federal Appeals Court in Virginia heard his arguments for a new trial on Wednesday.

His lawyers say a significant amount of evidence, including hair fibers, were left out of his original trial. Haines says that evidence could have proven his innocence.

“He tells me he’s ready to get out and that he’s really tired,” said Haines, “but he tries to stay positive for us and stay strong for us.”

It is yet another attempt at freedom for the 64-year-old.

“I felt like we were close a long time ago,” said Haines, “it’s in God’s hands. That’s the way I feel about it.”

The three-judge panel will issue a decision in the next three months. If they side with Long, then he will be able to walk free.