PUBLISHED:January 05, 2024

Exonerated Wrongful Convictions Clinic client Ronnie Long receives $25 million settlement


Long will receive the second largest wrongful conviction settlement ever recorded after the City of Concord, N.C., admitted “significant errors in judgment and willful misconduct" resulted in his imprisonment for over 44 years. 

Ronnie Long with Clinical Professor Jamie Lau following Long's release from prison on Aug. 27, 2020 Ronnie Long (L) and Clinical Professor Jamie Lau following Long's release from prison on Aug. 27, 2020 (Photo: Denise Nation)

Ronnie Long, a client of Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic who spent more than 44 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, has settled a civil lawsuit against the City of Concord, North Carolina, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation for $25 million. 

Long’s total settlement, which includes a $22 million payment from the City of Concord and a previous $3 million settlement with the State Bureau of Investigation, is the second largest wrongful conviction settlement ever recorded. 

In a January 9 statement, the City accepted responsibility for “significant errors in judgement and willful misconduct by previous [C]ity 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 read. “We are hopeful this can begin the healing process for Mr. Long, his family, and our community, and that together we can move forward while learning valuable lessons and ensuring nothing like this ever happens again.” 

Long, who is Black, was convicted by an all-white jury on Oct. 1, 1976, for the rape of a prominent white woman in Concord. The Chief of Police and County Sheriff inexplicably removed nearly all of the Black potential jurors from the jury pool before summonses were issued. No physical evidence tied Long to the rape and burglary, his attorneys said, and the prosecution’s main piece of evidence — the victim’s identification of Long weeks after the attack — was the product of a suggestive identification procedure arranged by the police to target Long, who did not match her original description of the assailant as a “yellow or really light-skinned Black male.” 

Numerous pieces of forensic evidence that could have helped exonerate Long, including 43 fingerprints and a suspect hair collected at the crime scene, none of which were from Long, were tested by investigators but not disclosed, and officers with the Concord Police Department gave false testimony about the evidence at trial. In addition, a rape kit collected at a local hospital and provided to the Concord police went missing and has never been found. 

In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 9-6 that Long’s due process rights were violated at his trial and remanded the case to the district court to decide the question of innocence. That opinion was issued after a rare en banc hearing in May 2020 during which the State argued that the withheld evidence and misleading testimony at Long’s trial did not prejudice the outcome. 

Long, who became a client of the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic in 2015, was released from prison on Aug. 27, 2020. At the time, only two other exonerated defendants in U.S. history had spent longer behind bars. His conviction was subsequently vacated and he later received a pardon of innocence from Gov. Roy Cooper. 

“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,” said Clinical Professor Jamie Lau ’09, the clinic’s supervising attorney. “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.” 

Added James E. Coleman, Jr., the John S. Bradway Distinguished Professor of the Practice of Law at Duke and the clinic’s director: “I don’t think the public appreciates how difficult it is, even under the best of circumstances, for our exonerated clients to move forward after a wrongful conviction.” 

“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.” 

Lau, who served as Long’s lead attorney during his appeal, said the decision of the City of Concord to recognize the harm caused to Mr. Long by its employees and to settle this lawsuit for such a substantial amount is a welcome change from the actions of state prosecutors, “who irrationally fought to keep an innocent man in prison.” 

“I applaud the City for taking responsibility and making it possible for Mr. Long to move on from the nightmare he lived for more than half his life. I hope that more municipalities follow Concord’s path when given the opportunity to right a wrong occurring in their community.” 

The Wrongful Convictions Clinic investigates plausible claims of innocence made by people incarcerated for felonies in North Carolina. Since its founding at Duke Law School in 2008, faculty and students of the clinic have helped secure the exonerations of ten men.