I was wrongfully convicted. AG Josh Stein is refusing to do the right thing | Opinion

I served 44 years, 3 months and 17 days in prison for a crime I did not commit. The City of Concord apologized for the misconduct that led to my wrongful conviction, and Gov. Roy Cooper granted me a Pardon of Innocence. It seems that everyone recognizes that I was railroaded by the State of North Carolina at my 1976 trial — everyone except N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein.

Stein recently appeared on a national radio show and was asked about his office’s conduct in my case. While I was wrongfully imprisoned, the attorney general’s office went to great lengths to keep me there despite the lies and deceit by law enforcement officers and prosecutors that led to my conviction. As described by Judge James Wynn of the U.S. Court of Appeals, in his separate opinion in my case, “...the State has maintained (my) guilt — even while concealing evidence showing otherwise.”

Ronnie Long stands for a portrait in his backyard, on Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021, in Durham, N.C.
Ronnie Long stands for a portrait in his backyard, on Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021, in Durham, N.C.

When that evidence was finally disclosed, the attorney general’s office undertook a misinformation campaign to excuse the state’s conduct rather than acknowledge it. This campaign included arguments that the officers did not lie, but were simply mistaken, that the concealed evidence was irrelevant to my conviction, and that I knew of the evidence all along. The A.G.’s Office advanced these arguments because it could, not because there was any support for them.

Despite all this, when radio host Clay Cane asked Stein whether he had any regrets about how his office handled my case, he firmly replied, “I don’t, I don’t.” In explaining his office’s actions, Stein said that there are cases “where people look at the facts and come to different conclusions.” That is true, but it should be deeply disturbing to the citizens of North Carolina that, in this of all cases, Stein doubled down on the actions of his office that unnecessarily caused me, an innocent man, to languish in prison.

Worse, the actual perpetrator of the sexual assault I was convicted of was never brought to justice. Does Stein regret that his office aggressively defended my wrongful conviction while the true assailant remained free? Does he regret that the victim died believing a lie told to her by the corrupt police officers that his office defended?

Stein is now running as the Democratic nominee for governor. He must answer for his record in wrongful conviction cases, mine included, before moving on to the highest office in the state. At minimum, he should be asked about his record at his campaign events and debates. If he insists that he still has no regrets, then he must be held accountable.

At the very least, Stein should acknowledge that I was wrongfully convicted and the harm such cases do to people’s trust in the criminal justice system.

During the radio interview, Stein pointed to his role as co-chair of North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice to establish his commitment to fairness in criminal cases. This is all fine and well, but pointing to work on a task force is far different than doing the right thing when having the opportunity to do so. In my case, Stein and his office had numerous opportunities to do the right thing. They did not.

Ronnie Long was exonerated in August 2020 with the help of the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Gov. Roy Cooper granted him a Pardon of Innocence in December 2020.