Longo pleads guilty to killing wife, one of three children

The Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2003
By ANDREW KRAMER, The Associated Press

NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) — Wiping away a tear, Christian Longo pleaded guilty Friday to killing his wife and 2-year-old daughter but pleaded innocent in the deaths of his two other children.

In a surprise move, Longo, 29, admitted that he murdered his wife, 34-year-old MaryJane, and their daughter Madison on the Oregon coast in December 2001.

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His lips trembling and taut, Longo responded to questions by Judge Robert Huckleberry with short answers.

When asked whether he killed MaryJane and Madison, he replied: “That’s correct.”

But Longo pleaded innocent to the deaths of his two other children — 4-year-old Zachery and 3-year-old Sadie Ann. A trial on those charges is scheduled to begin March 10.

The bodies of all four were found in December 2001 in coastal waters — Zachery and Sadie Ann on Dec. 19, and MaryJane and Madison on Dec. 27. Longo was arrested in Mexico about three weeks later. The couple was married in Ann Arbor, Mich. and the family once lived in Ypsilanti.

Huckleberry told Longo that he can still receive the death penalty for the murders of his wife and daughter, as well as for the deaths of the two older children.

“The plea the defendant made today was not based on any plea negotiation or bargain,” said Bernice Barnett, the Lincoln County district attorney.

“I’m not going to speculate on why they did this. This is different than any case I’ve heard about in Oregon.”

Longo’s attorney, Ken Hadley, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. Reached at home, he said it was Longo’s decision to admit the twin killings. Hadley would not say if he had evidence that would clear Longo of the other two slayings.

“I’d like to be courteous, but it’s nothing I want to announce right now,” he said. “It would not be appropriate to go into the defense strategy.”

Hadley said the strategy would become clear when the trial starts. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Legal experts said the plea decision was puzzling.

“The driving force behind this must come from the mouth of Christian Longo,” said John Hingson, an Oregon City attorney who is the past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It could be that he accepts responsibility for what he did showing remorse on one part, and pointing the finger at somebody else for the other part. This will remain a mystery for awhile.”

The deaths of Longo’s wife and his children have transfixed Oregon since the first body washed up off the Oregon coast before Christmas in 2001.

The first body was 4-year-old Zachery, who floated ashore in Lint Slough. The next grim discovery was the body of 3-year-old Sadie inside a sleeping bag, with a weighted floral-print pillow case tied to her ankle.

As a large-scale investigation intensified, Longo reported for work at a Starbucks in a Fred Meyer store in Newport, attended a holiday pizza party and met a co-worker for lunch.

Longo had fled the Oregon coast by the time sheriff’s divers plucked the bodies of MaryJane and the youngest child, Madison, from the Newport Marina on Dec. 27, stuffed in two large, dark green suitcases.

Longo traveled first to San Francisco, then to Mexico on a ticket bought with a stolen credit card number.

He snorkeled and partied in Tulum, a beach resort near Cancun, and reportedly lived with a German woman who was traveling on holiday — and apparently unaware of Longo’s recent past.

Longo told tourists he worked as a travel journalist who wrote under the byline “Mike Finklestein.”

A tip from a Canadian tourist prompted his arrest Jan. 13, 2002, by FBI agent Daniel Clegg and Mexican federal police.

On a flight to Houston, Longo confessed to killing his family, Clegg testified later in court, but declined to discuss details of how he did it. Clegg said Longo told him: “I sent them to a better place.”

“Mr. Longo openly admitted he killed his wife and three small children,” Clegg said in a court document.

The killings marked the worst crime in Lincoln County in more than a decade.

Longo’s court-appointed attorney, Ken Hadley, filed more than 20 pretrial motions, questioning the details of Longo’s arrest, extradition from Mexico and indictment and requesting a change of venue.

Huckleberry dismissed most of the defense requests, including the change of venue.

Hadley said Friday that he was concerned about an apparent breach of attorney-client privilege at Longo’s cell at the Lincoln County Jail.

“Essentially, what we are looking at is, a guard went in looking for contraband and he started reading legal material. Then, he started relaying that information to the prosecution,” Hadley said.

“I don’t know, it seems like it’s pretty inappropriate,” Hadley said.

The Longos reached Oregon in the fall of 2001 after fleeing a trail of bad checks and fraud convictions stretching back to Michigan. In 2000, the Jehovah’s Witness Church expelled Longo after he was convicted for passing $30,000 in bad checks.

MaryJane once managed a doctor’s office and worked in the University of Michigan dental school before staying home to raise the children.

Relatives of MaryJane Longo could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

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