Attorneys: Evidence will clear rape case

Ronnie Long, who has spent 32 years behind bars for a rape he says he didn't commit, is asking that his conviction be thrown out because of new evidence he says shows his innocence.

In a motion filed Friday at the Cabarrus County courthouse, Long's attorneys claim they've uncovered evidence that shows Long was not at the scene of the crime.

The evidence includes the results of tests done in 1976 that were not presented to the jury during the emotionally-charged trial in Concord.

Long, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury of raping a prominent white woman at knifepoint in her Concord home. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The victim, a 54-year-old widow of a textile executive, testified that she had absolutely no doubt that Long was her assailant.

But Long, then a 19-year-old cement mason from Concord, says the woman was mistaken and has maintained his innocence for more than three decades.

Cabarrus County District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven could not be reach for comment Friday, but police and prosecutors have previously said they believe they got the right man.

Long's attorneys, Donna Bennick and Janine Zanin of Chapel Hill, included in their motion the results of tests conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation in 1976, which they say show no link between their client and the crime.

Among other things, the SBI analyzed Long's clothing, the victim's clothing, and a hair believed to belong to the rapist.

The SBI tests found:

The hair discovered at the bottom of the stairs where the rape occurred was different in color and shape from Long's hair.

No hair or hair fragments similar to Long's were found on the victim's clothing.

No carpet fibers or paint similar to that in the victim's home were found on Long's clothing.

Long's attorneys argue that prosecutors violated Long's rights by withholding the test results from his attorneys at the time of the trial.

“Mr. Long's trial attorneys were completely unaware that (evidence) had been collected, sent to the SBI and tested,” the lawyers wrote.

If they'd had the test results, the motion says, the lawyers would have used them to raise doubts about the reliability of the victim's identification of Long as the rapist.

Bennick and Zanin obtained reports of the SBI test results in January 2007. They've spent several years searching for evidence – including a rape kit that contained semen recovered from the victim on the night of the crime – to conduct DNA testing, which wasn't available in the 1970s.

The rape kit hasn't been found, and Concord police have been unable to explain what happened to it.

Long's attorneys are seeking a new trial. If a judge agrees, prosecutors would have to decide whether to proceed with a trial given the new evidence and the victim's age. She's now in her 80s.

Convicted under North Carolina's old sentencing laws, Long has been eligible for parole since 1987. He has been denied parole 20 times since then because, his lawyers say, Long refuses to admit guilt or participate in a sex offender treatment program.

“There is not one scintilla of physical evidence connecting Mr. Long to this crime … ,” Bennick and Zanin wrote in their motion. “It is long past time for the truth to come to light and for justice to prevail.”