Defense still not showing hand on Longo strategy

Associated Press, Mar. 26, 2003
By BRAD CAIN, Associated Press Writer

Christian Longo, accused of killing his wife and three young children, took the stand Wednesday in his own aggravated murder trial and described his strict upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, his subsequent “shunning” by the church and the beginnings of his marriage.

Defense attorney Steve Krasik proceeded slowly, questioning Longo for an hour before taking a 10-minute break. Longo gave articulate, matter-of-fact answers and remained composed throughout the questioning.

Longo, 29, has pleaded guilty to killing his wife, 34-year-old MaryJane and 2-year-old daughter, Madison, around Christmas 2001 and dumping their bodies into shallow waters off the Oregon Coast. He has pleaded innocent in the deaths of his two older children, 3-year-old Sadie and 4-year-old Zachery.

The defense, which began presenting its case Tuesday, did not give an opening argument. Longo’s lawyers have not yet explained the deaths of the two older children.

Longo testified that starting at age 11, he and his brother went door-to-door to share their religion with others. They were not allowed to take part in extracurricular activities, he said.

Longo also told jurors that he first met his wife, MaryJane, when he was 16 and felt an attraction to her. Because of his faith, however, his parents would not let him date until age 18, he said.

He requested permission to date MaryJane one week after his 18th birthday and was denied, he said.

“My parents said I was not ready to date. I chose to move out the next week,” he said, adding that he first stayed with a friend and then rented an apartment.

The marriage was almost derailed, Longo said, when he stole $108 from a camera store where he worked to help pay for an engagement ring for MaryJane.

Word of the theft got back to the elders at the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but MaryJane, “chose to stick it out with me,” Longo recalled. “It was the first time I cried in my adult life.”

Eventually, Longo worked his way back into the good graces of church elders and things settled down, he testified. He began work at a Detroit-area newspaper distributorship, and MaryJane Longo worked as a clerk at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Both Longos had a problem controlling their spending, continuing to go on trips to Jamaica and Toronto even as they had racked up $25,000 in credit card debt, Longo said.

When Zachery, their first child, was born in February of 1997, MaryJane quit her job, unable to bear being away from her son, Longo said.

Meanwhile, he was traveling more for work, and it was taking a toll on their marriage, he testified.

“Some of the passion was gone,” Longo said. “We were complacent with each other.”

Under questioning from Krasik, Longo described how he was excommunicated – or “shunned” – from the Jehovah’s Witness faith at age 26. Other church members were not allowed to talk to him, he said.

Krasik also asked if Longo believed people go to a “better place” when they die.

Longo replied: “When someone dies, they are in the common grave. They are asleep until God decides otherwise.”

FBI agent Daniel Clegg testified earlier in the trial that Longo confessed to the crimes during an interview as he was being brought back from Mexico, where he was captured several weeks after the slayings. Clegg said Longo said of his family: “I sent them to a better place.”

Earlier Wednesday, defense lawyers called two witnesses who attended a party on the first floor of The Landings condominium the same night that police believe Longo killed his family in an apartment one floor above.

The testimony seemed intended to counteract earlier comments from a couple who awoke that same night to loud crashing and dragging noises in the apartment below them, where the Longo family was staying.

Dave Sevigny testified that he attended a party on the first floor that night and shook and bumped a snack machine in the hallway after a bag of popcorn got stuck in the dispenser.

Another partygoer, Stephanie Stokes, said the eight or nine guests at the party were “pretty intoxicated” and loud.

“Nobody was screaming or yelling, but no one was using quiet voices,” she said.

Longo was caught at the Camping Santa Fe beach resort in Tulum, Mexico, where he partied, snorkeled and befriended a group of vacationers two weeks after the slayings.

Prosecutors have tried to paint Longo as a self-centered, cold-blooded killer who planned the killings for months so he could pursue a glamorous lifestyle without the burden of his family.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 27, 2003.
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