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A matter of faith

[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
David Long, center, with his wife, Teresa, and his stepson, Tim, talks about the ordeal of his 49 days in jail in the death of their 7-month-old daughter.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002


HOLIDAY -- A 7-month-old girl was dead. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled that someone shook her so hard she suffered "blunt traumatic head and neck injuries."

photo
[Special to the Times]
Rebecca rests on Long's lap just days before she died.
On that basis, a grand jury indicted the girl's father, David Raymond Long, for first-degree murder. It appeared to be a strong case. After all, it was based on the conclusions of two trained scientists.

At that moment, those who knew Long had a choice: Would they believe in hard evidence? Or would they believe in Long?

For his pastor, the Rev. Samuel Seaman, the answer was simple:

"People love David," he said. "They trusted him."

But how could they?

Seaman opened his Bible.

"Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

-- 1 Corinthians 13:7

Grounds for suspicion

David Long, 35, is a soft-spoken man with big, blue eyes and a hesitant handshake.

His teenage stepson, Tim, marvels at Dad's patience. "Oh, I've done some things," said Tim, 16. "And he never gets mad."

David and Teresa Long have been married 10 years. They met when she was an assistant manager at a convenience store in Tampa. She worked the late shift. He'd come in for coffee. He asked her out. She said she'd have to get a babysitter for Tim, who was 5 then.

No, David said, bring him along. Soon, David was "Dad" to Tim. That sealed it for Teresa. It was time to get married.

They wanted a child more than anything. It took five years.

Rebecca Long was born three months premature. She weighed just 1 pound 11 ounces. After two months, Rebecca came home from the hospital.

David and Teresa called her their "miracle baby."

"You could see David's love and devotion to that little, tiny baby," said Seaman, pastor of Riverview Alliance Church in New Port Richey. "He was so overwhelmed with joy that he had this precious child."

On March 7, 1998, David was at home caring for Rebecca. Teresa had gone to work in Tampa. About 10:30 a.m., Rebecca started crying. David thought she was teething. He picked her up, and then put her in her crib.

She was still crying when he left the room. Ten minutes later, hearing nothing from Rebecca's room, he went back to check. She wasn't breathing. He started CPR.

Paramedics revived her. Nine hours later, Rebecca died at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The questions began almost immediately. Doctors suspected foul play. Detectives from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office opened an investigation.

Suspicion fell on David because he was the only adult at home when Rebecca stopped breathing.

David and Teresa never had a chance to grieve.

David was busy answering questions. Without bothering to get a lawyer, he submitted to five interviews with detectives. Teresa was busy worrying about David.

"I had to defend the family," she said.

Two days later, the Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy. Joan Wood, the chief medical examiner at the time, and her assistant, Marie Hansen, determined that Rebecca's death was a homicide.

"Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things."

-- Martin Luther, German Reformation leader

* * *

Who would condemn Teresa Long if she had doubts about her husband?

Her precious child was dead. The authorities said it was murder. All she had was David's word: He said he did not kill Rebecca.

For Teresa, there was no doubt.

"I never thought about it, not even for one second," she said. "I knew David. I saw him with Timmy. I saw him with Rebecca. I knew he was innocent.

"I knew God would take care of things."

A detective plays a hunch

The investigation lasted 18 months. Pasco sheriff's detective Jeff Bousquet could have arrested David Long any time after the autopsy. He would have had no problem finding a judge to sign a warrant.

But Bousquet had doubts about the autopsy, too. When Long insisted he had done nothing wrong, Bousquet believed him.

"I just didn't think he did it," Bousquet said in a recent interview.

The detective asked prosecutors to seek a second opinion on Rebecca's cause of death.

That wasn't done.

In September 1999, prosecutors secured a first-degree murder indictment against Long. He was booked into the county jail in Land O'Lakes. A judge ordered him held without bail.

A sign from God

His employers at Florida Power, where Long worked as a computer operator, could have fired him. Instead, they held his job open.

His co-workers picked up his shifts just to make sure the company didn't try to replace him.

"I wanted to help him out," said Vijay Christie. "He didn't sound like a murderer. He didn't act like one."

Teresa visited her husband three days a week. Her boss, she said, allowed her to go "because he knew David. He knew he couldn't have done this."

Long spent 49 days in jail before a judge agreed to give him a $50,000 bail. Seaman and several dozen members of Riverview Alliance Church showed up at the hearing to support David.

Seaman took it as a sign that God had heard the prayers -- and that the case against David might have some weaknesses.

David returned home and to his job at Florida Power.

* * *

When the Rev. Seaman needed someone to babysit his 9-year-old son, he turned to David.

"I had no reason to doubt that I could trust David," Seaman said. The church made David a deacon.

Eventually, David lost his job.

Florida Power was bought by a North Carolina company, and David would have had to move out of state. He couldn't do that with a murder charge hanging over his head.

Teresa continued working, but now the family was getting by on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. It was only with donations from church members that the family managed to pay the bills.

* * *

"Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith."

-- Max Planck, German physicist

* * *

It took David more than a year to find another job.

Every time he filled out a job application, he was faced with the same question: Have you ever been convicted of a felony? He hadn't. But he wanted to be honest with prospective employers. There's something you need to know, he told them. I'm charged with first-degree murder.

The rejections piled up. Not everyone believed in David Long.

He finally found a job as an assistant manager at a west Pasco pet supply store. It paid half of what he made with Florida Power.

Even with Teresa's job, the family finally went broke. Their 2000 Plymouth minivan was repossessed. They filed for bankruptcy.

Compounding the stress, David's trial date was approaching.

"I was terrified," Teresa said.

But not of David going to prison. That never entered her mind.

"I was terrified that I couldn't be there with him in the courtroom," said Teresa, a witness in the case. Witnesses are not permitted to sit in the courtroom during a trial.

'We walk by faith, not by sight.'

-- 2 Corinthians 5:7

* * *

Late last month, with the trial two weeks away, Teresa got a call. It was David's lawyer, Mina Morgan. There had been a development.

The new Pasco-Pinellas medical examiner, Jon Thogmartin, had reviewed the original autopsy. He determined that Rebecca died of pneumonia.

There was more. A neuropathologist from Lakeland examined Rebecca's brain and found no evidence of a traumatic injury.

* * *

A few days later, David went up to his stepson Tim.

"I need to talk to you," David said.

"Am I in trouble?" Tim asked.

No, that's not it, David explained. He then asked:

"What have we been praying for?"

"Court case dropped?"

"Yep."

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