CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There was a rumor going around Thursday morning that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper would pardon Ronnie Long, a Concord man who spent 44 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Attorney Jamie Lau called Long to tell him. By 12:45 Thursday afternoon, it was a fact. Ronnie Long was granted a full pardon of innocent.
"I just got off the phone with Governor Cooper's office, who called me to confirm you're going to be pardoned," Lau said.
Long was freed from prison in August after 44 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit. WCNC Charlotte spoke to Long after he heard the news of his pardon.
"That means a burden's been lifted off my back. A load of my family name, I wanted to rectify my family name," Long said.
A federal appeals court said the state violated Long’s rights at trial after police lied on the stand and even hid evidence that would have cleared him. The state then overturned the conviction but the governor had to officially pardon him for long to be declared officially innocent and eligible for compensation for all the years he lost.
"It was such an injustice and the speed at which the governor's office moved is indicative how horrible the wrongful conviction of Ronnie Long was," Lau said.
Cooper had never pardoned anyone before Thursday, when he pardoned Long and four other men.
“While I can not give these men back the time they served I am granting them pardons of innocence in the hopes that they might better be able to move forward in their lives," Cooper said in a statement.
Long is expected to receive $750,000 for the 44 years he lost.
"I'm grateful. I'm blessed but we still talking about 44 years that was took from me," Long said.
Now all Long wants is to use the money to buy a small house of his own and a proper headstone for his mother, who died just weeks before he was released from prison.
"I'm overjoyed," said Long. "It relieves the tension as far as my survival."
Lau said it should take a few weeks before Long actually gets the compensation.