Long’s attorneys also said investigators collected more than 40 fingerprints at the crime scene that didn’t match Long’s, but this information was never shared with Long’s defense team and the prints later disappeared.
The case got renewed attention this year due to social justice protests over George Floyd’s death, which prompted church leaders and state lawmakers to call on Gov. Roy Cooper to intervene, the Observer reported.
Long’s attorney Jamie Lau announced the man’s pending release Wednesday in a Twitter post.
“The state said it will ask the district court to enter a writ vacating Ronnie’s conviction. In short, Ronnie Long is coming home!” Lau wrote.
Lau later told the Observer that he asked for Long’s immediate release from Albemarle Correctional Institution, where three inmates have died recently amid an outbreak of the coronavirus. For now, though, Long remains locked up indefinitely as officials work through strict protocols to finalize his release.
The office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein confirmed Long’s release with a copy of the state’s motion, which states “The interests of justice call for immediately remanding the case to the district court.”
“While it will take some time for the courts to do what is needed to vacate the conviction, the state has set in motion a process that will lead to Ronnie’s freedom,” Lau wrote in the statement. “I spoke w/ Ronnie this morning. He is grateful, overwhelmed, and looks forward to reuniting with his loved ones.”
Earlier this week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a new hearing for Long and sent the case back to a lower federal court to decide on either an acquittal or new trial, the Observer reported.
Federal appeals Judge Stephanie Thacker criticized state prosecutors in the majority opinion for defending Long’s conviction despite there being irrefutable proof of concealed evidence.
Judge James Wynn also sharply rebuked the prosecution because Long could have been sentenced to death as a result of his conviction, the Observer reported.
“Such an action is repugnant in any context,” Wynn wrote. “But it takes on a particularly sinister meaning here, given our country’s historical treatment of Black men accused of raping white women.
“That evidence has now trickled out, revealing the truth that Mr. Long has declared for decades: he should not have been found guilty.”