Testimony sheds light on motive.
NEWPORT - ` `I sent them to a better place.' '
That was Christian Longo's response when FBI agent Daniel Clegg asked him why he'd killed his wife and three small children, Clegg testified Wednesday in Lincoln County Circuit Court.
He said the comment was made as he escorted Longo aboard a flight to the United States from Mexico, where Longo had been in hiding.
The statement, and others testified to during Wednesday's court hearing, began shedding some light on a key unanswered question in Longo's aggravated murder case:
Why would anyone commit such a crime?
The bodies of Longo's 34-year-old wife, MaryJane, and their children - Zachery, 4; Sadie, 3; and Madison, 2 - were discovered in coastal waters in Waldport and Newport last December. Longo, now 28, disappeared until a Canadian tourist called the FBI to report she had seen him in Mexico.
Testimony from Clegg and Lincoln County Detective Sgt. Ralph Turre indicated that Longo told them he was troubled because he was being shunned by the Jehovah's Witness Church, which his wife belonged to; his relationship with his parents had soured; and his financial problems were so bad he couldn't stretch the money he made from his job at a Starbucks coffee shop in Newport from payday to payday.
"He said his wife and children didn't deserve to live this way," Turre said Longo told him after arriving in Houston. "He said, `Now they are in a better place.' '
Turre said before Longo made the remark, he praised his wife for remaining faithful to him and for standing by him as they struggled to deal with their problems.
During one interview, he said, Clegg mentioned to Longo that in many cases where a father kills his family, the father takes his own life. He said Clegg asked Longo why he didn't kill himself, and he, Turre, suggested that the reason was Longo was "not right with Jehovah."
Longo acknowledged that was the case, Turre said.
Testimony about the exchanges between Longo and the officers came while Circuit Judge Robert Huckleberry was considering a defense motion to suppress statements Longo made during three interviews: one with Clegg on the flight from Cancun to Houston, shortly after his Jan. 13 apprehension at a Mexican tourist camp; one with Clegg and Turre and Oregon State Police Detective Roy Brown in Houston; and one with Brown and Turre in the Newport jail, shortly after Longo's return to Oregon the night of Jan. 15.
Huckleberry will decide how much of what Longo told the officers will be heard by a jury in a trial set to start Feb. 3. He's expected to rule on a defense motion to suppress the testimony after an Oct. 18 deadline he gave attorneys to submit additional evidence on the issue.
The judge is also expected to rule on defense motions to dismiss the murder charges against Longo, or prohibit a death penalty sentence, on the grounds that Longo wasn't given a chance to confer with U.S. Consulate authorities in Mexico.
Longo's attorneys have argued that had he talked to Consulate officials, he would have learned that returning voluntarily to the United States, which he did, could result in his facing the death penalty, which he is.
Mexican authorities have typically sought assurances from U.S. authorities that suspects extradited from Mexico won't be put to death if convicted in U.S. courts. There is no death penalty in Mexico.
Whether Longo's comments to Clegg, Turre and Brown will be suppressed may hinge on whether he was properly informed of his right to remain silent and consult with an attorney, and whether the officers violated those rights in questioning him.
Defense attorneys contend that Clegg, who read Longo his rights just before leaving Mexico, should have done so earlier.
They also argue that repeated statements by Longo, declining to answer questions about whether or how he killed his family, along with remarks that he was reluctant to answer because he wanted "to talk to someone about his options," indicated he wanted legal advice.
Lead defense attorney Ken Hadley contends the questioning should have stopped in Houston, where Longo should have been allowed to consult an attorney.
Hadley faulted the officers for continuing their questioning even though Longo indicated he wanted to end the interviews.
But prosecutor Steven Briggs said a taped transcript of the third interview indicates Longo was comfortable, and even seemed to enjoy talking to the officers. It's just that he wanted to pick and choose the subject matter, he said.
Briggs said the exchanges in which Longo indicated he didn't want to answer certain questions shouldn't be admissable during the trial but the bulk of the interviews should be.
The officers expressed different opinions about whether Longo's remarks should be regarded as a confession.
After his interview on the plane from Mexico, Clegg wrote a report saying Longo "openly admitted" killing his wife and children.
Turre testified during defense questioning that in the Houston interview - which included a recap of Longo's statements on the airplane - he "did not admit outright" to killing his wife and children.
Longo, dressed in a brown three-piece suit, showed no emotion during Wednesday's hearing. But MaryJane Longo's sister, Penny Dupuie, and Cathy Baker, the dead woman's sister-in-law, wiped their eyes as Turre talked about encouraging Longo to describe what happened the night of the killings, when Longo was in bed with his wife and 2-year-old Madison slept on a comforter on the floor in their waterfront condominium in Newport.
Turre said he told Longo he eventually had to relive that night and the sandy-haired murder suspect replied, "I've been reliving it every night." But Longo declined to talk about how the killings occurred, he said.
Huckleberry will hear arguments on a defense motion for a change of venue on Dec. 10 and 11. He said additional pretrial hearings may be necessary later this month or in early November on subpoenas of records.
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|Title Annotation:||Trial: An FBI agent says Christian Longo explained that he killed his family of four to spare them pain.; Crime|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Oct 3, 2002|
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