An African-American man who served 44 years for a crime he said he did not commit has been released from a North Carolina state prison. Ronnie long, wearing a dark three-piece suit, red tie, and hat, walked out of jail with a few belongings.

“It was a long way to freedom. But now it’s over, ” long said, addressing reporters. Wearing a mask that read “Free Ronnie long,” he thanked his defenders and loved ones for standing up to the long legal battle, CNN reported. “Ronnie long has endured 44 years of injustice. I can’t imagine the strength it took for him and his family to survive this, ” said Charlotte mayor Vee Lyles.

Long, now 64, was charged with raping a white woman. A jury made up entirely of white Americans found him guilty. A victim of violence, reported that the suspect attacked her in her home, later fleeing. The police asked the woman to come to the courtroom and observe people who were present at the other cases to see if anyone looked like the attacker. As a result, she identified long, who was in court on suspicion of committing another crime. The court sentenced long to life in prison.

His sentence was overturned on Thursday after authorities in North Carolina filed a motion in Federal court to review the sentence amid protests against racial violence. “Since long was convicted, the flood of information made public after the trial has revealed a disturbing and striking trend of deliberate police concealment of physical evidence,” said U.S. court of Appeals for the fourth circuit judge Stephanie Tucker. Federal judges supported this view.

 

Long maintained his innocence and fought for release for years. The court ruling does not find long not guilty. The Federal court left the matter to the lower court.