“It’s a blessing within itself for me to even be sitting here right now,” says Ronnie Long, free after 44 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Long, who is African American, was convicted in 1976 of raping a white woman by an all-white jury and sentenced to 80 years in prison. In 2015, his lawyers learned that investigators had withheld exculpatory evidence proving his innocence — including semen samples and fingerprints taken from the crime scene that did not match his own — and witnesses for the state committed perjury at his trial. It would take several more years and a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for Long to win his freedom. Long walked out of the Albemarle Correctional Institute in North Carolina a free man on August 27. He is asking North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper for a pardon, which would fully clear his name and make him eligible for financial compensation. “You’ve got people that have been victimized by the system, like myself, and then you turn around and you put me back into a society and expect for me to live a productive life,” he says. “I need that pardon in order to try to get on with my life.”
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