A Black North Carolina man who was accused of raping a White woman and ended up spending 44 years in prison in a case of wrongful incarceration has registered his displeasure with a $750,000 compensation from the state that covers only 15 years of his time behind bars.
According to USA TODAY, Ronnie Long, now 65, was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for allegedly raping a White woman though he maintained his innocence. During his trial, his attorneys said key pieces of evidence including over 40 fingerprints that were obtained from the crime scene were not presented to the court.
In August last year, Long eventually gained his freedom after a court ruled his conviction was wrong. He was subsequently pardoned by the state governor in December, making him eligible to receive compensation. A welcoming gesture, Long is, however, receiving compensation that covers only 15 years of his 44 years of wrongful incarceration due to state law.
Per the law in question, North Carolinians who are wrongfully incarcerated are entitled to a $50,000 compensation for each year of their time in prison. It is, however, capped at 15 years – meaning people who spent more than that period in prison won’t receive any compensation for their time beyond the stipulated years. In effect, Long is not entitled to compensation for the other 29 years of his wrongful incarceration.
“You took my 20s, my 30s, my 40s and my 50s and you still talking about this is worth that?” he told the news outlet. His attorney, Jamie Lau, also said the $75,000 is “inadequate” when you put into consideration his ordeal behind bars and his financial status.
“He entered prison healthy and left broken. His ongoing financial security is the least he deserves after so much was taken over those 44 years,” Lau said.
During his time behind bars, Long lost both of his parents. “North Carolina intentionally put me in the penitentiary and you tell me $750,000 is worth 44 years of my life? You killed my mother and my father,” he told WCNC Charlotte.
There are similar laws with regards to compensation caps for wrongful incarceration cases in other states as well. In Mississippi, the state allows for eligible recipients to be paid $50,000 but theirs is capped at 10 years. Curtis Flowers, the Black man who was on death row for 23 years after he was accused of killing three White people in 1996, received only $500,000 as compensation from the state following his release after the court ruled he was wrongfully incarcerated. Flowers was tried six times for the murder.
Lau told USA TODAY it is prudent for the state of North Carolina to review the compensation cap as well as the governor’s powers when it comes to deciding who is entitled to receiving compensation.
“It’s time to revisit this amount since we are learning the magnitude of the harm caused by wrongful convictions in North Carolina. It’s also time to revisit the compensation statute as a whole, as the governor should not have full authority over who does and does not receive compensation,” Lau said.
Long, who also reiterated he’s “not satisfied” with the check and will start “shaking trees”, told WCNC Charlotte he has been contacted by a host of civil attorneys and he’ll be exploring his legal options.
“You put me in the penitentiary for 44 years and during that time you destroy evidence, you lose evidence, tamper with the jury, you commit perjury and everything about the trial was a mockery,” he said.