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Doctor says wife's death an accident, not murder

Saturday, August 16, 2003

By Virginia Kopas Joe, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Karl Long said he "did not intend to kill his wife. It was an accident."

Karl Long maintained during testimony yesterday that his wife's death was accidental. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

"I knew we fought, that she died and I feel responsible, like I felt responsible with so many other things in our lives," he told a Westmoreland County jury yesterday about the confession he made to police in the hours after her Oct. 3, 1999, death by suffocation from a plastic bag.

"I love my wife," Karl Long said several times, even as he outlined years of verbal and physical abuse by her and admitted that his wife's very public affair with a family friend troubled him. "But I keep an even head," he said. He said that in the weeks before his wife's death "he was afraid" because on at least four occasions his wife had threatened to "do a Phil Hartman" on him and the couple's two children.

Hartman was an entertainer who was killed in 1998 by his wife, who then committed suicide.

Long's nearly two days of dramatic testimony capped the defense case that he acted in self-defense during a violent argument in which Elaine Long came at him with a knife and that she died when her hefty, 240-pound husband fell on her after he passed out.

Long, 44, is on trial for first-degree murder and faces life in prison. He spent a grueling 7 hours on the stand yesterday. Later, under intense cross-examination by District Attorney John Peck, Long fumbled over some of his earlier statements. Peck is trying to prove that Long planned to kill his wife to end their well-documented troubled marriage.

"Not all defendants take the stand, but Karl has been eager for the truth to come out," Long family spokesman Evan Pattak said after testimony.

Karl Long said Oct 3, 1999, started out like any other Sunday. He made breakfast and the couple took their two children to Mass. They returned and Karl Long spent the day working on the lawn and packing to move. Four days earlier his lawyer had filed Karl Long's petition for divorce from his wife of nearly 18 years.

Long said he came in at 8 p.m. but not before his wife embarrassed him in front of neighbors by coming outside and screaming several times. He said she also cut down half the bushes in their manicured yard, yelling "half of everything here is mine" and that his "out of control" wife did damage to his car and office that day.

Long then watched videos with his two children, then 9 and 5, and when his wife started yet another argument, he carried his sleeping daughter upstairs and locked himself in the bedroom he had been using since his estrangement.

Elaine Long beat on the door, saying she needed clothes stored in the room. Karl Long turned on the light and opened the door. He said his wife "came across the threshold with a knife and stabbed me. I grabbed her neck and threw her on the bed, took the knife out and threw it. She was trying to get the knife again and said she was going to do the kids and me like Phil Hartman. I passed out, and when I woke, I was on top of her and Elaine was lying face down with a piece of plastic by her head. She wasn't breathing."

Long then called 911. Police found her dead and took him to the hospital where he was treated for a stab wound to the upper right chest.

Long said the plastic bags on the bed and in the room -- bags police say bore his prints -- were there because he had earlier picked up his dry cleaning.

Earlier this week forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee said that Karl Long couldn't have killed his wife because there were no pressure marks on the bags. Lee said the death was a "tragic accident."

But Peck said Long has selective memory about that day and pointed out inconsistencies in statements he had made earlier to police involving the position of Elaine Long's body on the bed and how the stabbing occurred. He also said that Long was resentful about his wife's relationship with another man and how she often belittled him.

And Peck asked why a medical doctor -- Long is a podiatrist -- did not do cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his wife.

Karl Long is a successful doctor and the couple had two active children, several cars -- he bought his 9-year old son a classic BMW -- and the family had well-appointed homes in the quaint village of Ligonier as well as Martha's Vineyard, an island off Cape Cod.

Character witnesses for Karl Long are expected to wrap up the case starting at 9 a.m. Monday.

Virginia Kopas Joe can be reached at or 724-837-1725.

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