News 12 First at Five, 6 o'clock, and 11 o'clock, September 8, 2009
WAYNESBORO, Ga.---New details today in the child cruelty case involving Christine and Jeremy Long of Burke County. Christine Long says the state is now trying to remove nine minor children from her care.
The Long case put Burke County on the map for all the wrong reasons...a family living in squalor, squatting in a house for decades. Some experts called it one of the worst cases of child neglect they'd ever seen.
Both parents were convicted of neglecting their eleven children. Now, Christine Long says she has new evidence, and she's showing it exclusively to News 12's Lynnsey Gardner.
Christine says she found some of the video and pictures after her sentencing. She says she has had others since her family's living conditions were discovered, but she didn't share them in court because she didn't think she would need them. Now she's changed her mind, hoping it will help her in the fight to keep her kids.
But, as a convicted felon, she's got tough question to answer.
The photos and videos provide an inside exclusive look at what life may have been like inside the Long house. They show children giggling and playing with their pets. It's hard to imagine those children were found living in deplorable conditions, with just two jars of jelly in the house for food, no electricity, no running water, no beds, and no indoor plumbing.
"It was not always that horrible. It was not always like that," Christine said.
Christine points to videos taken in 2006, two years before the family was discovered, as proof. The kids are seen in the videos drinking soda. They're clothed and watching TV.
In another shot, we see two other children eating what looks to be cereal.
Some pictures taken the same year show the kids wearing shoes, and others show them celebrating Halloween and Christmas.
"I think it would have helped a great deal to show I did care for my children, they were happy in these pictures," Christine said.
Almost every 19 months since their parents married, another child was born.
You can see the family progress into more and more poverty with every additional mouth to feed.
"Every time your mom got pregnant, what did you think?" we asked daughter Miranda Long.
"I was sad because there was another person brought into our world," Miranda said. "That they were born into a life like that, to be hungry.
She says it got worse as the years went on.
"I had two outfits," she said. "I didn't like being dirty, not being clean."
News 12: "What's the hardest part of this for you?"
Miranda: "Not having my family with me. ... I feel very alone."
Miranda's the only child..to support her mother's claims of abuse at the hands of Jeremy Long.
News 12: "Did your dad abuse your mom?"
News 12: "Have you been coached to say that?"
Miranda, shaking her head no: "I saw it."
But she's alone on that too.
News 12: "Why is that none of your other minor children support your story of abuse?"
Christine: "They have told their therapist, but she was not called into court."
That's a decision the district attorney's office says was made by Christine's defense team.
News 12: "In the court of public opinion, though, a lot of people think you are lying about the abuse."
Christine: "They do, but they haven't talked to the one person that has spent so much time with me and my children, which is our therapist."
News 12: "You started writing Jeremy letters in jail in October. The last letter is December 11th. And you were indicted seven days later, and then the letters stopped. Don't you think that's suspicious?"
Christine: "I do think that's suspicious."
News 12: "You profess on every page your undying love for him."
Christine: "I was being told if he was in the house, I would have a better chance of getting my kids back. I was told he was about to come home."
News 12: "A lot of people are looking at this going, 'She's writing him in jail, she gets charged, letters stop and then three months later, she's claiming all these abuse allegations?'"
Christine: "Actually I got my strength up Christmas Eve. He called and I told him I'm filing for divorce."
News 12: "Because you know people are looking at the timeline and saying, okay. She filed for divorce and claimed all these abuse allegations to get out of the charges."
Christine: "Absolutely not."
News 12: "To avoid jail."
Christine: "Absolutely not."
News 12: "To get her kids back."
Christine: "No ma'am."
The picture painted in court exactly one year later was even worse: Ten children who didn't know how to use the bathroom or bathe properly. Children who were illiterate. Children whose only emotions were fear of society and hatred for others.
The state argued the children learned those lessons from their parents. They brought felony neglect charges. Christine and Jeremy pled guilty.
News 12: "What does the term convicted felon mean to you?"
Christine: "I don't like it. ... It bothers me about what my children must think to have to say that about their mother. ... It seems so unfair."
Others argue what's unfair to her children is Christine's two-year jail sentence, to be served two weekends a month. Their father Jeremy is serving three years.
News 12: "A lot of people look at your sentence, though, and say it's a joke. ... The court of public opinion says justice was not served in this case for your children."
Christine: "I understand that, because a lot of the truth is not out. A lot of what was told was not...was lies. They were kept clean. My children did not have to be bleached for days. The statement that one of my children smelled between animal and death was not because he was not clean. He got sick in the car on the way to Burke Medical and had vomited on his clothes."
Christine says her family fell on hard times in the year before they were found.
In court, an expert argued when the family was found, they didn't even have supplies to color with, but Christine says they did. As proof, she pointed to pictures of decorations on the wall from 2006 and homemade cards in a video she says is even more recent.
Many of the pictures Christine showed News 12 display a cleaner home, even laundry hanging outside to dry.
Christine says their level of poverty grew as the family grew, and she blames her estranged husband, Jeremy Long.
News 12: "I know that at times you said your children were well-fed, and it wasn't starvation like the picture painted in court. Yet, in the divorce filing, you say that he would only provide ramen noodles."
Christine: "In the year leading up to this is when it got worse, and sometimes that's all we had for days was ramen noodles."
Christine says there were times when Jeremy was in a good mood and would provide for them and get them plenty to eat, but that was not always.
she says Jeremy abused her, trapped her in the home with the children as a prisoner.
But the video Christine provided also shows Christine reading the newspaper as her kids play nearby.
A medical expert testified that both parents were manipulative to the children and both were at fault.
News 12: "Were you a manipulator?"
Christine: "To my children? No ma'am. Everything they went through, I went through with them."
That same expert found "this extreme neglect has been occurring for a very extended period and is not reflective of the family hitting a low point."
The final finding was that the children experienced prolonged neglect--medical, physical, educational and emotional.
"They could have had more education, and thank goodness they didn't need medical attention," Christine said. "They were healthy. But I think she was a little overboard in her description of how the children were."
News 12: "One child said if they were ever injured, they would sit on the couch until the pain went away."
Christine: "That is true, because they weren't allowed medical attention. ... It is only by the Grace of God that my children were not only born healthy but had no serious health conditions during that time."
But again, medical experts tell a different story. Other than at their birth, the children almost never saw a doctor. Once found, one child had earwax so impacted it had to be surgically removed. Another child's bowels were so backed up he had to be admitted to the hospital. One bill alone shows a cost of more than $10,000 in dental work on just two children's baby teeth.
Testimony showed educational neglect was also abundant.
News 12: "Your children didn't know the days of the week, didn't know their ABC's."
Christine: "They knew their ABC's, they knew how to write their names."
Another example, involving Christine's now 14-year-old son:
News 12: "The oldest boy being on a Pre-K level, hearing that, knowing that's how they've tested. ... And knowing that you and Jeremy contributed to that or caused that wholly?"
Christine: "I feel ashamed for that. I know that he's embarrassed and I know that's my fault. I'm sorry that happened."
News 12: "You're no dummy. I've read the letters you've written.. ...You are well-written, you are well-spoken. Why didn't you work harder to educate your children?"
Christine: "I did with my first two, and then with the more I had it just got more difficult."
Christine showed News 12 the house where she says she's ready for all her children to make a new home.
"This is where I hope to put my four other girls," she said.
But one daughter in foster care, now 18, has chosen to stay put over returning to Christine.
"At first she was waiting to see if I was going to prison and said she would be homeless," Christine said.
News 12: "You understand that the decision for a child not to come back to you when they could hurts your case?"
Christine: "It did, but because the children were so close, I can understand why she would want to be with them while she can."
News 12: "In your heart of hearts do you think you are guilty of the felony charges you pled guilty to?"
Christine: "I don't."
News 12: "Then why did you plea?"
Christine: "I didn't want to put my children on the stand. ... I thought by pleading guilty I could finally put and end to it and move on and get my children back."
Experts argued her children suffered severe and prolonged neglect, including medical, educational, and physical.
Christine: "I didn't spank the children with a belt, their father did."
News 12: "One child later said you did spank them with a belt and you laughed about it."
Christine: "I don't remember that."
Emotional neglect was also showcased in court. The state argued that the children say their mother did not tell them she loved them or hug them.
Christine: "I did hug them, just not all the time."
News 12: "It's even in the DFACS report, when your kids were being taken away by foster parents, complete strangers to you in the midst of all that chaos, you didn't hug one child."
Christine: "That was not true. I was standing in the hallway begging them not to take my kids. ... I wasn't given a chance to tell them goodbye. ... They said it would be easier for the children to leave if I wasn't there. If I told them goodbye, it might upset them more."
After Christine was indicted, she changed her tune on her husband Jeremy, filed for divorce, and claimed abuse, blaming him for the family's condition when they were found. A stark difference from the love letters she wrote him while he was in jail months before her arrest.
Christine: "I have extreme anger against him. What he's done to my children's life. ... I don't know how he looked at those kids and thought where we were was OK."
News 12: "Did you think it was OK?"
Christine: "I didn't think it was OK. It was horrible living conditions."
News 12: "Do you take any accountability for where you guys were at when you were found?"
Christine: "I accept my blame."
Oldest daughter Miranda, who also wrote letter after letter filled with love and Bible verses to her jailed father, now supports her mother's story.
News 12: "Do you think your dad's a good dad?"
News 12: "A good person?"
News 12: "A good husband?"
News 12: "Why do you think none of your other siblings are corroborating that?"
Miranda: "They are. If I ask them, they tell me they saw it."
Miranda, the firstborn, has gone from being her mother's oldest of 11 to her only child at home.
"She's not what they make her out to be," Miranda said. "She's a good momma. She does love us, she does care about us."
News 12: "Have you apologized to your children for what you put them through?"
Christine: "Over and over and over. I'm sorry for what they went through and I apologize for what they are going through now."
Now, the children have spent more than a year in foster care, some bouncing from house to house, others in homes that want to possibly adopt them.
Christine: "I've been told if I sign away parental rights to my six youngest, I'll get my four oldest. I can't do that. I can't put my name on a piece of paper and give them away. ... They will have to take my children from me. ... I didn't fight for the last year to prove myself to give them away with a stroke of a pen."
Christine says she's completed therapy, found a home and gotten a job. She also says she's completed three DFACS case plans in the last year.
Christine: "I think I deserve my chance."
News 12: "A lot of people say you had your chance, every single day for 18 years times 11."
Christine: "I didn't have my chance before. I think I deserve my chance to prove what I can do for my children."
The court will decide if she'll get that chance.
News 12 took what Christine is calling new evidence to the district attorney's office. After looking at the pictures and all the video, here is their statement:
"We don't know how long she has had it. She never provided it to us. I think when you look at all the pictures and the video, it confirms the conditions of the house we thought were there. It doesn't change the conditions of the house and the children when they were found. There was evidence of long term physical, educational, medical, and emotional neglect. Because of the evidence in the case, the defendants were charged with a number of counts of cruelty to children in the second degree, based on the neglect that was found. The defendants acknowledged that they did neglect their children as alleged by entering guilty pleas and being sentenced for a number of the offenses charged."
There's no word on when Christine's DFACS hearing will be rescheduled, or what help, if any, the new evidence she is showing will give her case.
Christine says Miranda completed her GED exam this morning and has plans to enroll in a technical college to get her cosmetology degree.