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Suspect stays silent in court.

Byline: LARRY BACON The Register-Guard

NEWPORT - Christian Longo, accused of murdering his wife and three small children last December on the Oregon Coast, made his first appearance in court Tuesday at a hearing that was dominated by debate over whether he was illegally returned to Oregon from Mexico, where he was in hiding.

Longo, wearing a light gray suit, declined to enter a plea to seven charges of aggravated murder so Lincoln County Circuit Judge Robert Huckleberry entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The number of charges is greater than the number of victims because of different prosecution theories about how the crimes were committed.

Longo, 28, faces a possible death penalty in the killings of MaryJane Longo, 34, and the couple's children, Zachery, 4, Sadie, 3, and Madison, 2. A warrant was issued for his arrest after their bodies were found in two Lincoln County estuaries.

He sat at the defense table Tuesday with his legs crossed, leafing through legal papers, and occasionally conferring with his attorneys, Ken Hadley and Steven Krasik, in whispers.

Huckleberry called Tuesday's court session to receive testimony on a series of pretrial motions he must rule on before the case goes to trial. He denied many, approved some, postponed arguments on others, and said he would rule later on the remainder.

He said a defense motion for a change of venue, because of alleged prejudice against Longo in Lincoln County, probably would be heard in December.

Indications Tuesday were that the trial could start as early as next Feb. 1.

Much of Tuesday's testimony centered on a motion by the defense that the charges against Longo be dismissed - or the death penalty set aside - because he was not properly advised that in agreeing to return to Oregon he gave up his right to ask Mexican authorities to seek assurances from U.S. authorities that they wouldn't try to have him put to death if he returned.

Mexico has no death penalty and is sometimes reluctant to hand over prisoners to other countries where they might be executed.

Daniel Clegg, the FBI agent who escorted Longo on a flight from Cancun to Houston, testified that neither he nor Mexican authorities had an obligation to inform Longo of his right - under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations - to consult with U.S. Consulate authorities.

Consular officials would have at least gotten Longo together with a Mexican attorney, who would have advised him of his legal rights, Hadley told the judge.

Clegg, who is attached to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, said he told Longo after he was taken into custody by Mexican authorities on Jan. 13 that he had three options for returning to the United States, and two of them - extradition or deportation - would involve spending time in a Mexican jail.

The third option, Clegg said he told Longo, was to return voluntarily, which could happen immediately and involve no Mexican jail time.

"He emphatically said, 'I don't want to be in a Mexican jail,' ' Clegg said. "He made it clear jail in the U.S. would be horrible, but the lesser of two evils."

The judge gave the defense and prosecution until Oct. 18 to file additional legal briefs on the motion before he makes his ruling.

Longo hadn't physically appeared in court prior to Tuesday's hearing. All his previous court appearances were by closed circuit TV.

The judge earlier approved a defense request that he be allowed to wear civilian clothes in court rather than jail clothing. His attorneys argued that requiring him to wear jail clothing would likely prejudice a jury.

At one point Tuesday, Lincoln County District Attorney Bernice Barnett took the stand to answer questions about her decision to charge Longo with aggravated murder and seek the death penalty.

She acknowledged that although she had received no plea-bargain offer from the defense, her chief deputy, Paulette Sanders, had received overtures from Longo's attorneys about meeting with another judge to discuss settling the case before trial. Any such settlement presumably would save Longo from the death penalty.

Hadley said in court that Barnett had never acknowledged that such a meeting was possible.

She told a reporter later the defense proposal lacked enough specifics for her to be able to respond to it.

Hadley said at the end of the day he would give Barnett some additional information. He said a "settlement conference" is an option that needs to be considered because his client is facing the death penalty.

A defense motion to compel the prosecution to produce a record of Clegg's phone calls from Mexico, after he learned that Longo was to be taken into custody, was rebuffed by the judge.

Hadley said he needed the documents to determine whether there was ``a conspiracy'' involving Oregon officials to deprive Longo of his right to U.S. consular help in Mexico after his arrest.

"The motion is not well taken," Huckleberry said, indicating he plans to issue a written denial.

In his testimony, Clegg provided details on how Longo was apprehended in a thatched-roof cabana in a small coastal tourist camp about 70 miles from Cancun. He said Mexican officers took Longo into custody without resistance after a Canadian tourist tipped off the FBI as to his whereabouts.

Clegg, who speaks Spanish, said he had no law enforcement authority in Mexico and played no role in Longo's capture, other than to help overcome the language barrier.

He said he explained the options for Longo's return - including about "two minutes" describing the conditions in Mexican jails - and stayed with him as a witness to prevent possible claims later that he was coerced by Mexican officials.

Describing the ride with Mexican police from the tourist camp to Cancun, Clegg said Longo "was a little emotional in the back seat."

The Lincoln County sheriff's detective who got Longo to sign a form, saying he agreed to return voluntarily after his arrival in Newport, said Longo told him he was glad to be back in the United States.

Although Huckleberry had set aside nine days this month to deal with the pretrial motions, the hearings were expected to conclude today.

Much of today's discussion is expected to be about a defense motion to suppress comments Longo made to Clegg on the flight back to the United States.

CAPTION(S):

Kathy Baker (left), Mary Jane Longo's sister-in-law, and Penny Dupuie, Mary Jane Longo's sister, take notes in court Tuesday.
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Title Annotation:Longo: Defense attorneys question the legality of their client's return from Mexico.; Courts
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Oct 2, 2002
Words:1076
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