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Spirit Lake foster parent pleads guilty to killing child, abusing others

Tammy Longie faces life in prison. Her husband, Erich Longie Jr., also faces life in prison but has tried to withdraw his guilty pleas.

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Tammy and Erich Longie
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FARGO — Prosecutors will ask a federal judge to send a Spirit Lake woman to prison for life after she admitted to killing a 5-year-old foster child and abusing three other children.

Tammy Jean Longie, 47, pleaded guilty Tuesday, Jan. 4, in North Dakota’s federal court to second-degree murder, three counts of child abuse and one count of child neglect. The charges are in connection to the May 6, 2020, death of 5-year-old Raven Thompson on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

The child was found dead in the basement of Longie's Tokio, North Dakota, home, according to court documents. Longie and her husband, 44-year-old Erich Longie Jr., were caring for Raven and her 7-year-old brother, Zane, as foster parents.

“The foster parents showed no emotional signs that one would typically expect to see from a caregiver,” the court documents said in citing an emergency responder.

An autopsy report found Raven suffered from prolonged dehydration and injuries consistent with abuse, said Lori Conroy, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fargo.

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Zane and two of Erich Longie's biological children also were abused, according to Conroy. Zane had to be taken to a hospital in Fargo after social workers discovered abuse-related injuries, the prosecutor said. Doctors were concerned the boy could suffer heart failure due to malnutrition, she added.

The Longies and their adult children denied any abuse happened at the home, but the minor children said the parents hit them, according to court documents.

Zane told investigators that the Longies abused him and his sister since they came into their care in July 2019, with the couple hitting the children with a slipper, stick and paddle, Conroy said. At one point, gray tape was put over Raven's mouth, Conroy said.

The night before Raven died, she was not in good health and would groan, Conroy said in citing testimony from the children. The Longies put her in the basement so they didn't have to listen to her, she said.

The Longies were initially charged with first-degree murder, three counts of child abuse and one count of child neglect.

The second-degree murder charge carries a maximum punishment of life in prison. Tammy Longie will serve a minimum of 10 years in prison due to the child abuse charges.

Conroy said she would argue for a life sentence, citing the extreme conduct by the Longies and the vulnerability of the children. Defense attorney Erin Bolinger is expected to fight the life sentence.

Federal Judge Peter Welte set sentencing for April 14 and 15, as prosecutors are expected to call a half-dozen witnesses.

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Erich Longie signed an agreement in February that said he would plead guilty to all the charges, including first-degree murder. That carries a minimum sentence of life in prison.

In a letter to Welte, Erich Longie wrote that he thought the murder charge would be dismissed when he signed the plea agreement. He said he pleaded guilty because he was covering for his wife and felt he was misled by his attorney.

Federal Judge Peter Welte denied that motion, saying the court doesn’t have to consider requests filed by defendants who are represented by an attorney. Erich Longie is represented by Fargo attorney Richard Edinger.

When asked about whether he would file a motion to withdraw the plea on his client’s behalf, Edinger declined to comment to The Forum.

Erich Longie is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 22.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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