Verdict Attacks Police Grilling

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

A civil jury in Prince George's County awarded nearly $6.4 million yesterday to a man who spent more than eight months in jail after he was interrogated for over 38 hours by homicide detectives, who then charged him with murdering his wife based solely on statements he allegedly made during the marathon interviews.

The award to Keith Longtin after the two-week trial is believed to be the largest ever made by a jury in a civil case involving abuse by Prince George's police.

Longtin, now 50, was released from jail only after DNA evidence found in his slain wife was matched with a serial rapist. The sexual offender was later convicted of the murder.

The Circuit Court jury awarded $5.2 million in compensatory damages to Longtin. It also leveled punitive damages of nearly $1.2 million against four county homicide detectives -- one of whom is retired -- who, the jury found, violated Longtin's civil rights.

The county indemnifies police officers for their actions in the line of duty and pays civil judgments and settlements. In the fiscal year that ended in June, Prince George's paid more than $4.6 million in jury verdicts and settlements involving alleged abuse by county police.

Longtin, who now lives in Anne Arundel County, broke down and wept as the verdict was announced.

The jury found that county detectives engaged in a pattern of violating the rights of defendants, said Cary J. Hansel, one of Longtin's attorneys. "We hope this signals the end of lengthy, coercive police interrogations in Prince George's County," said Timothy F. Maloney, another Longtin attorney.

Prince George's spokesman John Erzen said County Executive Jack B. Johnson will be briefed by county attorneys on the verdict and will decide whether to appeal.

Longtin was jailed after Prince George's homicide detectives charged him with murdering his estranged wife, Donna Zinetti, 36. Her body was found on the morning of Oct. 4, 1999, in a wooded area near her Laurel apartment complex. She had been stabbed and slashed 13 times in the face, neck and chest.

Police had no eyewitnesses and no physical evidence against Longtin.

Detectives charged him based on statements he allegedly made during interrogations that occurred over a span of more than 38 hours. According to detectives' logs, Longtin slept 55 minutes during that time.

Detectives took turns questioning Longtin, who, aside from brief bathroom breaks, remained inside a small interrogation room. Eventually, detectives alleged, Longtin said he picked up a knife and chased Zinetti after arguing with her. Longtin denied he ever said that.

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