LocalMatters       

Campaign helps free American black man after 44 years

Posted at 12:56pm Monday 14 Sep, 2020 | By James Addis editor@localmatters.co.nz

Flashback: Owen Mansill posting a card to Ronnie Long at a mail box in Neville Street, Warkworth. Ronnie spent decades in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Flashback: Owen Mansill posting a card to Ronnie Long at a mail box in Neville Street, Warkworth. Ronnie spent decades in jail for a crime he did not commit.

A Warkworth agri-business consultant's dream of seeing an African American man secure his freedom after being imprisoned for 44 years was finally realised last month.     

Mahurangi Matters first reported on Owen Mansill's efforts on behalf of Ronnie Long in May 2018.

Although Owen lived on the other side of the world and had no previous connection with Ronnie, he was so moved by his case that every two weeks he would send a postcard to him at the Albemarle Correctional Institution in North Carolina.

At the same time, Owen urged others in Mahurangi to take an interest in Ronnie's plight and visit the Free Ronnie Long Facebook page.

Ronnie, who has always protested his innocence, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for rape and burglary in 1976, but he was released last month after a Federal Appeals Court determined that he had been the victim of “extreme and continuous police misconduct”.

Owen learned about Ronnie from his Texan bank manager Joel Harlow, whom Owen had dealt with while setting up a New-Zealand style dairy farm in Texas

Joel drove 1000 miles to North Carolina and began researching Ronnie's case in a local library.

He discovered Ronnie did not match the description given by the complainant (who has since died), there was no forensic evidence linking Ronnie to the crime and the detective in charge of the case was subsequently imprisoned for perjury.

After Owen returned to New Zealand, he learned about Ronnie from Joel's Facebook posts and began sending postcards to Ronnie, determined to offer any encouragement he could.        

Owen says most of the credit for Ronnie's release goes to his wife AshLeigh; Associate Professor of Law at Duke University Jamie Lau; and Joel Harman, who became a key member of Ronnie's advocacy team.  

“Joel is a humble but a very determined man. He often said he would fight for Ronnie's release until he drew his last breath,” Owen says.

Owen says the Mahurangi Matters story also played a small role.

“Ronnie and his team took great heart in its publication and reported that it had also been noted by North Carolina authorities,” he says.

Owen has since returned to Texas where he is president of Southern Dairy – a company that promotes environmentally sustainable grass-fed farming.

“Once the Covid crisis is over, I plan for my wife and I to travel to North Carolina to meet Ronnie and AshLeigh,” he says.

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