FBI agent says Longo admitted killing family.
NEWPORT - On his return flight from Mexico to face justice, Christian Michael Longo admitted to an FBI agent that he murdered his wife and three children, the agent testified Tuesday as the first witness in Longo's aggravated murder trial.
Even so, a prosecutor disputed the motives Longo expressed to the agent, calling them "excuses."
Instead, Assistant Attorney General Steven Briggs pointed to testimony by other witnesses Tuesday to indicate Longo's true motives were to escape marriage to a woman he no longer loved, to shed responsibility for children he could not support and to carry on as a freewheeling bachelor.
Witnesses Tuesday told of Longo's grandiose lies and claims that he was an unfaithful husband.
But Longo's defense lawyers attacked the testimony of FBI Special Agent Daniel Clegg, saying Clegg took no notes of Longo's alleged confession and waited days before writing a report about it.
Clegg, who oversees fugitive apprehensions in Mexico, replied that all his actions were within FBI guidelines.
Clegg said Longo admitted the four killings "very openly."
"He never told us how. We couldn't get him to cross that line. He wasn't ready to discuss those details," Clegg said.
Longo said financial trouble and his growing concern about the family's spiritual well-being drove him to kill them, Clegg said.
The Longos were devout Jehovah's Witnesses, but he had been disfellowshipped - shunned and isolated from the church - because of his theft and fraud in business dealings in Michigan.
"He said he was lessening their chances of going to a good place because they weren't allowed to go to church," Clegg said. `He said, `I sent them to a better place.' '
Clegg said he asked Longo why he didn't kill himself so as to join his family in the "better place," and Longo explained that his faith dictates that he would not be eligible to join them if he committed suicide. Instead, he hoped to repent, Clegg said.
"He did not want to blame the Jehovah's Witnesses church for what happened," Clegg said.
Longo, 29, has confessed to killing his wife, MaryJane, 34, and youngest child, Madison, 2. He maintains innocence for the murders of his son, Zachery, 4, and daughter, Sadie, 3.
Later in the day, Longo's defense lawyers fought hard to prevent testimony from MaryJane's sister, Sally Clark, about a phone conversation she had with MaryJane on May 26, 2000.
Without the jury present in court, defense attorney Ken Hadley argued that Clark's testimony was not relevant to the case because it was about an event 18 months before the crimes. He also argued trial rules disallow hearsay, or second-hand testimony, about MaryJane's statement.
It was then that Briggs told Lincoln County Circuit Judge Robert Huckleberry that prosecutors believe that Longo's statements to Clegg were "excuses, not motives."
Briggs said Clark's testimony would reveal Longo's true motives.
Huckleberry previewed Clark's testimony before ruling it could be heard by the jury.
Clark, who is 16 months younger than MaryJane, said the two grew up "very close" in the middle of a half-dozen children of a single mother who relied on public assistance to raise them.
When her sister phoned in May 2000, she was sobbing - more upset than Clark had ever seen her. Clark said MaryJane had found e-mails on the family computer from a woman with whom Longo was having an affair.
Clark said MaryJane had just gotten off the phone with Longo after confronting him and being told that he had stopped loving her a long time ago, after she started having children, and that he loved the other woman.
She said MaryJane never cheated on Longo and stayed with him in spite of his infidelity. Clark said she and two other sisters filed a missing persons report with police after Longo, without notice, set out with his family - eventually to arrive in Newport.
Weeks later, Longo met Denise Thompson at the Starbucks coffee stand in the Newport Fred Meyer store where they both worked.
Thompson testified how she and her husband became friends with the Longos and how she helped identify the bodies of Zachery and Sadie after seeing photos of the children on television.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Thompson recited a dozen tales Longo told, which later turned out to be untrue, including:
That he earned $30,000 every two months from his Internet site and worked for Starbucks, earning about $170 a week, just for extra money.
That he wore a pager to keep abreast of his stock portfolio.
That he was a volunteer diver for the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
That he did not believe Madison was his child.
That MaryJane left him for another man, a CNN broadcaster who earned more money.
In a statement after court, Eric Eaton, the spokesman for Christian Longo's family, said the family is grateful for sympathy they've received from the community.
"We are not here to take sides," Eaton said, reading a statement. "Both prosecution and the defense have been very considerate and helpful to us. As the family of the accused, at times it must be easy to forget that we are also victims. We just want to have a chance to get some closure. We want to witness the trial of our son on behalf of our loved ones, to hear answers to the questions that have plagued us for months, and to see the process firsthand rather than through the eyes of others."
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|Title Annotation:||The trial's first witness testifies that the defendant cited religious reasons; Courts|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 12, 2003|
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