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Judge rejects request to dismiss Longo case.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

NEWPORT - A judge on Thursday rejected claims by confessed killer Christian Michael Longo that jailers and prosecutors illegally seized evidence from his private legal documents during a December cell search.

Lincoln County Circuit Judge Robert Huckleberry denied Longo's request that he dismiss the case, disqualify the prosecutors, or keep any evidence out of the trial. Thursday's rulings clear the way for the trial to begin Monday, as scheduled.

Testifying in a three-hour pre-trial hearing Thursday, Longo acknowledged that he'd been punished more than two dozen times for violating jail rules - including writing letters to a woman inmate - before another woman inmate reported him for writing to her in December.

When Lincoln County Jail deputies searched Longo's cell for other banned letters, Longo accused them of collecting information from confidential legal documents and turning it over to prosecutors. Longo testified he knew deputies were reading his documents during their search when, while he waited in the day room, he heard the sound of paper shuffling subside.

"I no longer heard a general rustling. It seemed obvious to me materials were being read," he said, in a steady, deep voice with precise enunciation.

He said he considers everything he writes to be a legal document, protected from disclosure to prosecutors, because he turns over the writing to his lawyers. Longo also admitted he is sending documents to a Montana-based writer who is under contract to produce a book about his case.

Dressed in a well-fitted sage colored suit, his reddish hair trimmed and combed neatly, Longo spent 16 minutes on the witness stand.

Two jail deputies and a sergeant also testified about jail policies, cell search procedures and Longo's rule violations. All said they did not copy any information from documents they saw while seeking forbidden letters to and from other inmates.

They also testified they told their supervisors about seeing notes regarding San Francisco and Mexico, two places Longo fled after the murders of his wife, MaryJane, 34, and children, Zachery, 4; Sadie, 3; and Madison, 2. Longo already faces a possible death sentence after pleading guilty to killing his wife and youngest child, but he maintains his innocence in the other children's deaths.

Although jail rules forbid communication between inmates housed in the high security level with Longo, ex-inmate Jared Mende of Lincoln City testified inmates can easily communicate by talking through the building's heating vents. Court records indicate Longo traded letters by passing them through inmates entrusted to clean cells and by hiding them in law books in the jail library.

Chief Deputy Lincoln County District Attorney Paulette Sanders told Huckleberry she does not plan to use any evidence gleaned from the cell search or from a search of trash Longo collected from his cell and disposed of in a jail receptacle.

She noted a judge reviewed Longo's trash to screen out any protected legal documents, but reported finding none before investigators looked at the papers.

In an eight-minute recitation, Huckleberry detailed his ruling on specific points of Longo's complaints.

He concluded jail deputies were entitled to search the cell and to handle documents as they did. He noted Longo cut short the search by agreeing to turn over contraband letters, which he had concealed in a folder marked as containing legal documents.

Huckleberry said Longo seemed to invite a legal confrontation. He noted contraband had been discovered in a previous search of Longo's cell, also hidden in a legal documents folder, "in the precise place the defendant complains the government should stay away from."

In a separate matter, Huckleberry declined to rule on whether prosecutors will be allowed to tell jurors in the opening statement that MaryJane Longo's sister will testify that MaryJane once told her Longo was having an affair and had said he no longer loved her.

The judge warned prosecutors that the testimony may not be admissible, which might leave jurors puzzled over the lack of testimony and possibly doubting other aspects of the prosecution's case. Huckleberry told prosecutors it is their risk to take.

"There are potential consequences. It's your call," he said. "I'm just urging caution."

It's unclear how long the trial may run, but court officials have estimated six to eight weeks.

CAPTION(S):

Christian Longo takes an oath in court Thursday in Newport. Longo: Search of documents ruled legal Continued from Page C1
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Title Annotation:Jail deputies didn't violate the suspect's rights, judge says, clearing the way for a murder trial to begin next week; Crime
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 7, 2003
Words:727
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