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North Carolina man exonerated after 44 years of wrongful imprisonment to receive $25 million settlement

By Jamiel Lynch and Lauren Mascarenhas, CNN

(CNN) — A man exonerated and freed after serving 44 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is to receive $25 million in the second-largest wrongful conviction settlement ever, Duke Law School’s Wrongful Conviction Clinic announced.

Ronnie Long, who is Black, was accused of raping a 54-year-old White woman and convicted by an all-White jury of rape and burglary in 1976. Long has now settled a civil lawsuit with the city of Concord and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation for a total of $25 million, according to a news release from the clinic.

Long’s conviction was vacated in 2020 after “a trickle of post-trial disclosures … unearthed a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence,” US Court of Appeals Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the decision.

The suppressed evidence, which included semen samples and fingerprints from the crime scene that did not match Long, was deliberately withheld by law enforcement, Thacker said in the filing.

“In the settlement, the City of Concord acknowledges and accepts responsibility for the significant errors in judgment and willful misconduct by previous city employees that led to Long’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment,” the city said in a statement announcing the settlement.

Long wrongly served 44 years, 3 months and 17 days in prison for the crime, the city said.

“No amount of money will ever compensate Ronnie Long for the 44 years he spent incarcerated and the indifference of numerous elected officials who fought to keep him incarcerated despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence,” the clinic’s supervising attorney Jamie Lau said in the release.

“While he was in prison his parents passed away; he missed birthdays, graduations, funerals, and other important events that mark a person’s life. He can never get this time back.”

Long’s settlement includes $22 million from the city of Concord and $3 million from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, which he was previously awarded.

CNN has reached out to the Bureau of Investigation for comment.

After Long’s conviction was vacated and he was released from prison on August 27, 2020, he was told he would receive $750,000 in compensation paid out at $50,000 a year, the maximum amount possible under North Carolina law. In 2021, Long told CNN he intended to fight that law.

“The amount is wholly inadequate to compensate him after taking away more than 44 years of his liberty,” Lau previously told CNN.

The large settlement and the public apology from the city are significant, said James E. Coleman, Jr., the clinic’s director.

“The fact that the City of Concord is taking responsibility for what happened to Ronnie and has apologized in such a forthright manner likely will lift some of the burden he will carry forward. We wish others responsible for these miscarriages of justice would follow Concord’s example,” he said in a statement.

“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 Concord City Council said in a statement.

“We are hopeful this can begin the healing process for Mr. Long and our community, and that together we can move forward while learning valuable lessons and ensuring nothing like this ever happens again.”

Long has been spending time with loved ones and purchased one of his dream cars – a Cadillac – upon his release, he previously told CNN. He said he and his wife were hoping to buy a home.

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CNN’s Lauren M. Johnson and Alisha Ebrahimji contributed to this report.

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