This article was in the Salem newspaper The Statesman Journal.
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Longo tells of money problems
He takes the stand and describes his church upbringing.
The Associated Press
March 27, 2003
NEWPORT — Christian Longo, accused of killing his wife and three young children, took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and emerged as a proud but failed entrepreneur who resorted to stealing a minivan when his family’s financial situation grew desperate.
Longo made it plain that money woes and the burdens of raising a family also took a toll on his marriage to MaryJane Longo.
“Some of the passion was gone,” Longo said. “We were complacent with each other.”
Defense attorney Steve Krasik proceeded slowly, questioning Longo for more than three hours about his strict upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, his subsequent “shunning” by the church and the beginnings of his marriage. Longo was scheduled to resume testimony on Thursday.
Still, the defense team hasn’t explained Longo’s assertion that he is innocent in the slayings of two of his children.
And much of the testimony Krasik elicited seemed to reinforce the prosecution’s image of Longo as a self-centered killer who planned the slayings for months so he could pursue a wild lifestyle without the burden of his family.
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.
In his testimony, Longo described his family’s increasingly dire circumstances as he struggled to start up a construction-related business in Michigan and he and MaryJane racked up more than $25,000 in credit card debt.
After one of the family’s cars was repossessed and the other blew an engine, he decided to steal a minivan using a fake driver’s license.
Krasik asked Longo why he didn’t try to borrow money from his mother and father rather than resorting to stealing.
“It was something that wasn’t even an option,” Longo said. “Pride has always been an issue to me. I wanted to be able to go on vacations and have nice clothes. It ended up burying us financially.”
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.
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.
Eventually, Longo worked his way back into the good graces of church elders, 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, Longo said.
Meanwhile, he was traveling more for work and it was taking a toll on their marriage, he testified.
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.