Prince George’s County last week paid more than $7.5 million to a man who won a multi-million dollar civil jury award for being jailed after county police falsely accused him of confessing to murdering his wife, a lawyer for the man said.
The amount the county owed Keith Longtin for being wrongfully accused grew by $2.4 million in over the last five years, as attorneys for the county filed a series of unsuccessful appeals to the 2006 civil award granted by a county jury. The latest appeal was rejected in April by the state Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland.
In August 2006, a jury found in favor of Longtin and awarded him $6.4 million; the trial judge reduced that amount to $5 million. But interest on the award accumulated while the appeals process was underway.
Cary J. Hansel, one of Longtin’s attorneys in the civil case, said the county paid Longtin and his attorneys in a wire transfer.
“The bottom line is, in almost all of these. . .cases, the county could have settled for pennies on the dollar if county attorneys had made a reasonable offer,” Hansel said.
Before the civil jury verdict, county attorneys offered to settle the lawsuit for a figure in the low six figures, Hansel said.
“It is part of a culture that pervades the police department and the county,” Hansel said. “I think they consistently undervalue the impact police misconduct has on people’s lives, and they undervalue the rights of their citizens.”
M. Andree Green, the acting county attorney, did not respond to a phone message.
Longtin, 55 now, lives in Maryland and had no comment, Hansel said.
In 1999 and 2000, Longtin was jailed for more than eight months on charges he murdered his estranged wife, Donna Zinetti, 36. Her body was found in October 1999 in a wooded area near her Laurel apartment. She had been stabbed 13 times in the face, neck and chest.
Longtin was interviewed by county homicide detectives for more than 28 hours without sleep. Eventually, detectives alleged, Longtin admitted he picked up a knife and chased Zinetti after arguing with her. Longtin denied making the alleged statement, which was not recorded, and maintained he did not kill Zinetti.
In January, 2000, a Maryland State Police crime lead technician told the lead homicide detective that Longtin’s DNA did not match the DNA of the attacker. The detective did not tell Longtin’s attorney, or prosecutors, of the finding.
In June 2000 the detective advised prosecutors that the DNA of the attacker matched Nathaniel D. Oesby. Longtin was released from jail and Oesby was charged with killing Zinetta.
In 2001, Oesby was convicted of murdering Zinetti and was sentenced to two terms of life in prison.
The Longtin case was one of a series of false confessions obtained by county police and featured in a series of Washington Post articles.