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Judge weighs evidence rules in Longo case.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

NEWPORT - An unexpectedly quick court hearing Wednesday in the murder case of Christian Michael Longo set the stage for another hearing today where a judge will decide whether jurors may consider second-hand testimony from a sister of murder victim MaryJane Longo and whether jailers illegally took protected legal documents from Longo's cell during a search for contraband late last year.

An eight-woman, four-man jury is scheduled to begin hearing testimony Monday. Longo, 29, already faces a possible death sentence after pleading guilty to killing his wife, MaryJane, 34, and youngest child, Madison, 2. However, he has pleaded innocent to killing his two other children, Zachery, 4, and Sadie, 3.

Court documents filed Tuesday show prosecutors want testimony from MaryJane's sister, Sally Clark, about a phone call three years ago in which a distraught MaryJane told her that Christian Longo had admitted having an affair and said he no longer loved her.

The law allows second-hand testimony - called hearsay - only under special conditions. One is when a person is not available to testify and their statement was made in an emotional state that supports the truth of what was said.

Court records do not indicate what kinds of documents or other information jail deputies may have gleaned from a December search of Longo's cell. The search happened after a female inmate reported Longo wrote her a letter, in which he referred to her in terms of affection, like "Senorita Cotton Candy."

Communication among inmates is forbidden by jail security rules. However, defendants have constitutional rights protecting documents they prepare for their legal defense.

Longo's lawyers are asking Lincoln County Circuit Judge Robert Huckleberry to take a range of actions, from dismissing the prosecutors to not allowing prosecutors to use any materials from Longo's cell.

Lawyers cut short a pre-trial hearing Wednesday by agreeing about which of the statements Longo made to police after his arrest should be withheld from jurors in his trial.

While specifics of the statements were not released during a 14-minute court hearing, lawyers indicated some of them fall into the category of prior criminal acts by Longo. Under the law, judges must weigh whether such statements serve to prove facts in a case or whether they are more likely to unfairly prejudice a jury against a defendant.

Rather than risk a damaging ruling by an appeals court years in the future, Assistant Attorney General Steven Briggs agreed to withhold all of the statements cited by defense lawyer Ken Hadley as unfairly prejudicial. However, the jury will be allowed to hear the excluded statements when they deliberate on a sentence for Longo because rules of evidence are different in trials and sentencing.
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Title Annotation:Crime
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 6, 2003
Previous Article:BRIEFLY.
Next Article:FOR THE RECORD.

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