Sister-in-law bristles at Longo’s plea

The Oregonian, Dec. 15, 2002

NEWPORT — Almost a year after allegedly murdered his wife and three young children, he has written a letter to a sister-in-law asking her to help him avoid the death penalty.

Ken Hadley, Longo’s court-appointed attorney, said Lincoln County District Attorney Bernice Barnett has rebuffed his attempts to reach a plea bargain that would spare Longo potential death by lethal injection.

Longo’s correspondence with his sister-in-law, Penny Dupuie, is the latest bizarre twist in a case that is winding its way to court in March, when Longo goes on trial on aggravated murder charges.

The release of tapes and transcripts of a four-hour jailhouse interview show that Longo portrayed himself to detectives as an anguished breadwinner, unable to support his family and wracked with guilt.

In his letter to Dupuie, MaryJane Longo’s youngest sister, Longo refers to what happened as a “disaster” that has befallen his family.

Dupuie said in a telephone interview from her home in Michigan that she doesn’t understand how Longo can ask her to help him when he’s accused of murdering her sister, two nieces and nephew.

Longo told police he brought his family to the Oregon coast in September 2001 to escape criminal and financial troubles in Michigan and Ohio, and to try starting a new life.

“He couldn’t (ask for help) a year-and-a-half ago, but he’s doing it now?” Dupuie said. “He’s not getting it.”

Dupuie is not sure why he picked her. She is debating whether to write back.

“I can’t decide if someone lives and dies,” she said. “I am not a judge and I am not a jury. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not a district attorney. That’s not the decision for me to make.”

Dupuie declined to reveal the entire contents of the letter, which Longo wrote from his Newport jail cell, because she wanted to keep some aspects of the letter private. She said no one else in her family has received a letter from Longo.

Whether Longo reached out to his own family with a similar plea is unknown. His parents, Joe and Joy Longo of Indianapolis, have declined to answer questions about their son’s case and whether they are assisting in his defense.

After he was arrested Longo told police he couldn’t turn to his parents for help when his financial problems mounted last December because they were estranged from him. Longo had been disfellowshipped by the Jehovah Witnesses, which means members of the faith, including his parents, shunned him. He also said he owed his parents thousands in business debts.

Longo’s parents did issue an e-mail statement, addressing for the first time the death of their daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

“The passing of time has in no way diminished our sorrow over the loss of MaryJane, Zachery, Sadie and Madison,” they wrote. “If anything, the pain has intensified each day, as the shock and numbness has faded. We hope that this episode may be ended quickly, fairly and in a way that keeps our grief as private as possible.”

A year ago next Thursday, the body of 4-year-old Zachery was spotted face-down in Waldport’s brackish Lint Slough. Three days later the body of Zach’s little sister, 3-year-old Sadie, was found by police divers in a sleeping bag anchored with rocks to the bottom of the slough.

On Dec. 27, the bodies of MaryJane, 34, and 2-year-old Madison were found stuffed in suitcases in Yaquina Bay. Their bodies were recovered just yards from a second-floor balcony in an upscale condominium where Longo stood in a biting coastal drizzle and admired the “perfect setting” late on the night of Dec. 16.

Details from interview That night was the beginning of what Longo said was a horrible week, according to a transcript of his four-hour jailhouse interview with detectives on Jan. 15 and 16. Longo got off work from the variety department of the Newport Fred Meyer about 11 p.m. Dec. 16 and drove home to a $1,200-a-month Yaquina Bay condo, for which he would never pay rent. He said his wife and three young children were asleep, so he sat down to sip wine and snack on his favorite “New York style” extra sharp cheddar cheese, according to court documents.

When he brought his family 2,000 miles to the Oregon coast, he intended to leave behind the thousands of dollars in business debts he had racked up in Michigan, along with the felony arrest warrants in Ohio and Michigan. The former Jehovah’s Witness, who had been disfellowshipped from his congregation in Michigan as his legal and business problems mounted, had planned to live on the “up and up” in Oregon, he told Ralph Turre of the Lincoln County sheriff’s office and Roy Brown, an investigator with the Oregon State Police.

But his reckoning point came as he stood crying on the balcony sometime around midnight, according to the transcript. It was a Sunday night. Longo had been paid Friday, and he was out of money. He didn’t know how long he could keep up the ruse that allowed him to live in the condo; he had convinced The Landing’s manager that he worked for Qwest, that he was on a temporary assignment in the area and that he would pay for the room as soon as a check from headquarters arrived.

“I remember looking out on the perfect setting and know we’d have to move,” Longo said. “I was thinking that they were in that situation too long with me. That, that they deserved much better. I didn’t know if I could give it to them.”

Memorials reappear Since she learned Dec. 24 that Zach and Sadie were dead and MaryJane and Madison were missing, Dupuie has traveled to Oregon four times. On the first trip, she arrived in Newport just hours after divers located the suitcases containing the bodies of MaryJane and Madison.

“I feel like there’s a part of MaryJane that is always going to be there,” Dupuie said. “I’m kind of drawn to Oregon.”

Each time she returns, typically with her sister-in-law, Cathy Baker, she places flowers and often balloons, framed pictures or candles near where the bodies of her sister and the children were found.

In Waldport, says Pastor Jim Howe of Community Presbyterian Church of Waldport, placing flowers on the Oregon 34 bridge over Lint Slough to memorialize the deaths of Zach and Sadie has become a ritual. Sometime later an Oregon Department of Transportation worker will stop by, scoop up the small memorial and haul it away because the state bars unofficial roadside memorials.

It’s only temporary though, Howe says.

“I’m still walking over that bridge, and ODOT keeps taking down these flowers,” Howe said. “And people keep putting them back.”

Howe says he will mention the Longos in his traditional Christmas Eve message, titled this year “Behold the Child.” Coastal residents remain affected by the deaths of the Longos, he says, with folks in Waldport particularly drawn to the memory of Zach and Sadie.

Their identities weren’t publicly known until a noontime Christmas Eve memorial in Howe’s sanctuary a week after Zach’s body was discovered. Howe drew gasps from those in attendance when he mentioned that authorities had identified the children.

“The best of our humanity came into play,” Howe said. “When people said, ‘Nobody knows who the kids are,’ we said, ‘They’re ours.’

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday December 17, 2002.
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