A North Carolina man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 44 years is seeking a formal pardon from Gov. Roy Cooper in order to receive compensation for the time he spent behind bars.
Ronnie Long was released from prison on Aug. 27 after a judge vacated his conviction, finding his constitutional rights were violated when an all-white jury convicted him in 1976 of raping a prominent white woman in Concord.
His attorney, Jamie Lau, said he could be eligible for up to $750,000 in restitution, but state law requires the governor to first grant him a pardon.
"A pardon isn't really the correct term in the sense that he's not being forgiven or excused for any behavior. He's innocent. But under North Carolina law, the governor has to acknowledge that innocence before any compensation can be received," Lau said.
A formal request for a pardon was sent by Lau to Cooper's office in early October, but no decision has been made. If Cooper does not take action before Dec. 31, Lau said he would become the first North Carolina governor in more than 40 years to complete a term without granting a single pardon or act of clemency.
"He can take immediate action, especially today during the course of the present pandemic to protect the health and well-being of individuals who are either deserving of a second chance and are incarcerated," Lau said, "or to give someone like Ronnie Long the financial means he needs to go on after being removed from society for 44 years."
According to Lau, Long has had trouble finding employment since his release from prison and has been surviving mostly on donations. A GoFundMe started by Long's wife immediately before his release had raised $49,595 as of Sunday afternoon. A Change.org petition calling on Cooper to grant Long a pardon had garnered 44,427 digital signatures also as of Sunday.
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