Crime

Charles & Marilyn Long murders: Was plea deal for Burlington 13-year old the "best resolution"?

The plea arrangement announced today in the case of a thirteen-year-old Burlington youth accused of killing his parents, who now faces seven years in the juvenile corrections system rather than a possible life sentence in adult prison, was hammered out through an unusual degree of collaboration between prosecution and defense -- and was promptly criticized by relatives of the slain couple, who believe the crime deserves a greater punishment.

Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Bob Watson announced at a court hearing this morning that he would not seek a transfer to adult court for the boy, in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to murder in the case, which will be entered September 28.

The boy was arrested last March, hours after his parents, Charles and Marilyn Long, were shot and killed in their home. The boy's younger brother and sister were assaulted with a knife but survived.

Watson spent considerable time studying the issue of whether to transfer the case to adult court. In an unusual move, attorneys from the Colorado Public Defender's Office provided prosecution expert Kathleen Heide, a Florida psychologist specializing in parricide cases, with unfettered access to their client for evaluation.

"It may sound kind of counterintuitive for us work with the district attorney in a case like this," says Tom Ward, one of the youth's attorneys. "But we researched their expert and determined that she would be a neutral party. We felt that if she saw what we were seeing, they would agree that this defendant shouldn't be placed in the adult system."

According to Ward, Heide examined several factors, including the defendant's level of maturity, home life and suitability for treatment. She recommended that his case proceed in the juvenile system. Watson's recommendation to that effect drew angry comments from other family members and their supporters, but Ward defends the decision.

"I know the district attorney feels like he was put in a tough spot," he says, "that the adult sentence was too long and this wasn't long enough. But we feel this is the best resolution to the situation."

More from our Mile High Murder archive: "Chrisopher Wells: Car lot link to murder of ex-wife Amara Wells, Robert Rafferty (56 & 57)."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast