Last Friday, an interfaith group of 38 religious leaders called on Gov. Cooper to commute the sentence of Ronnie Wallace Long.
Long’s story is a profoundly disturbing one. An all-white jury convicted Wallace, who is Black, of sexually assaulting a white woman in Concord, N.C., in 1976.
For more than 44 years Long has maintained his innocence, and it is now known that exculpatory evidence was hidden from Long and his attorneys at trial and that law enforcement officers testified falsely under oath. Long is represented by the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic.
The faith leaders supporting Long include the Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, President of the North Carolina NAACP, and the Rev. William J. Barber II and the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign. Their letter is the latest of a growing number of calls on Governor Cooper to free Long.
This is from the letter sent by the faith leaders:
“Numerous issues undercut the case on which the State secured Mr. Long’s conviction. Neither Mr. Long’s defense nor the jury knew that forty-three fingerprints were found at the scene, none of which matched Mr. Long’s. Nor did they know that the prosecution possessed an untested rape kit. The victim’s identification of Mr. Long was obtained through leading techniques, and his appearance was inconsistent with her initial description of the attacker. These are only a few questions among the many—including the lack of physical evidence implicating Mr. Long—that continue to cast doubt on his conviction forty-four years later.”
The letter from faith leaders came just days after a group of 16 North Carolina lawmakers wrote the governor urging him to commute Long’s sentence, and more than 34,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding Long’s release. This is from the lawmakers’ letter:
“The 1976 prosecution is emblematic of North Carolina’s all-too-familiar history with criminal cases drawn along racial lines: an all -white jury, without the benefit of existing evidence that would have cast doubt on Mr. Long’s guilt, convicted a Black man suspected of raping a white woman.”
Remarkably, Gov. Cooper has not yet exercised his authority to grant clemency since taking office. If this pattern holds, he would be the first North Carolina Governor in more than forty years to complete a term without granting clemency to a single person. Let’s hope he changes course in this important case.