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Freelance journalist files motion to quash testimony

By The Associated Press

02.24.03

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NEWPORT, Ore. — A freelance journalist who is writing a book about a man accused of killing his family has filed a motion to block a subpoena requiring him to hand over correspondence and taped interviews with the jailed suspect.

The subpoena would also require the journalist, Michael Finkel, to testify at Christian Longo's trial next month.

Longo last week pleaded guilty to killing his wife and youngest daughter in December 2001, but denied he is the one who killed his two other children.

Finkel, who has written stories for The New York Times, filed the motion Feb. 20 in Lincoln Circuit Court.

In the motion, he argues that Oregon law protects his correspondence with Longo because it was gathered as research for a book, described as a "medium of communication" in the state statute. The interviews and letters have not been made public thus far, the motion states.

"The courts have given broad protection to the newsgathering privilege under the First Amendment, on the ground that the fear of being involved in future judicial proceedings could adversely influence news reporters' decisions regarding whom to interview and what notes to take," the motion reads.

The motion is the latest in a flurry of legal filings, including a motion by Longo's attorneys to dismiss the case filed last week. Longo's defense team claims their client's jail cell was improperly searched as he awaited trial on murder charges.

Jailers searched Longo's cell at the Lincoln County Jail after a former inmate, Jennifer Muscutt, revealed that Longo wrote letters and a poem to her, some addressed to "Miss Cotton Candy."

Muscutt, who had been in jail on felony drug charges, was among several female inmates with whom Longo corresponded, according to a search warrant affidavit unsealed earlier this month.

Jail rules prohibit correspondence between inmates.

A hearing on the dismissal motion is scheduled for Feb. 26.

Longo has pleaded guilty to killing his wife, 34-year-old MaryJane and 2-year-old daughter Madison, but pleaded innocent to killing 4-year-old Zachery and 3-year-old Sadie.

All four bodies were found in late December 2001 in shallow waters off the Oregon Coast. Longo fled to Mexico, where he was arrested in Tulum on Jan. 13, 2002.

While in Mexico, Longo told tourists he worked as a New York Times travel journalist who wrote under the byline "Mike Finklestein," an inaccurate reference to Finkel.

The real Finkel, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., was barred from contributing to The New York Times in 2001 over questions about the identity of a source in a travel story.

Finkel learned in February 2002 that Longo had impersonated him and sought an interview for a possible magazine story.

Since then, according to court documents, Finkel and Longo have frequently corresponded by letter and phone and had in-person interviews.

Related

News media want cameras in trial of teen charged with killing 2 professors
Meanwhile, Oregon judge says he'll allow cameras, limited number of reporters during murder trial there.  02.26.02

Supreme Court turns away jailed writer's appeal
Vanessa Leggett had asked justices to use her case to give writers, reporters more rights to protect the confidentiality of their sources.  04.15.02

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