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Missouri killer whose death sentence was reversed 3 times is days away from execution

State prison in Bonne Terre. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Carman Deck once talked about his victims’ kindness.

Before he robbed James and Zelma Long and shot them execution-style, Deck and his sister had knocked on the door to the Longs’ home near De Soto pretending to need directions to Laguna Palma reservoir.

Zelma Long invited them inside.

That kindness wasn’t lost on Deck, a south St. Louis County resident with a prison record for burglary. He later mentioned to a detective during the interrogation how the Longs welcomed him into their home.

“They’re country folks,” Deck said. “They always do.”

The double murder of the Longs in 1996 in Jefferson County sent Deck to Missouri’s death row not once or twice — but three times. Deck has been given the death penalty three times since his original conviction, and each time that sentence was overturned on appeal.

The reasons varied for rejecting the death sentences: The first time, it was missing jury instructions. The second time, he wore shackles visible to the jury. At his third sentencing, “substantial” evidence arguing against the death penalty was unavailable to him.

A three-judge panel reinstated his death sentence in October 2020. Barring any last-minute reprieves, after 25 years of legal wrangling, Deck’s case could end this week in the execution chamber at the state prison in Bonne Terre.

Missouri has scheduled his execution, by lethal injection, for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Five of the Longs’ children and at least six grandchildren will meet for lunch Tuesday, then gather at the cemetery in De Soto for a prayer at the Longs’ gravesite. They then will head to the prison witness room to watch Deck die.

“I just wanna see him pay for what he did,” said the couple’s middle child, Angela Rosener, 67, of Potosi. “It’s going to be tough, but we want this to be done.”

Meanwhile, Deck’s lawyers have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution and review his case. They also met with  representatives of Gov. Mike Parson last week, said Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, one of Deck’s attorneys. They submitted a lengthy application for executive clemency, featuring two photos of Deck side-by-side — one of him smiling broadly in prison, the other a weathered photo of Deck as a little boy, looking sullen.

His lawyers portray a childhood of abuse. The “failure of the Missouri system to protect Mr. Deck as a child is a primary reason his life took the tragic path that it did,” Deck’s lawyers wrote in the clemency application. They asked the governor for mercy, to commute Deck’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The governor’s communications director, Kelli R. Jones, said Friday that Parson was reviewing the case.

The killer

James and Zelma Long were shot execution-style in their home near De Soto on July 8, 1996, after they were robbed and ordered to lie on their bed. Prosecutors said the couple had begged Deck for mercy. James Long was 69, and Zelma Long was 67.

Deck, now 56, was 30 years old at the time of the killings. He was unemployed and lived in an apartment on Enderbury Drive in South County.

Deck’s lawyers, in their plea to Parson, said Deck’s troubles were evident from the start, when he was hospitalized as an infant for dehydration because his mother didn’t give him formula. By age 18, Deck had lived in 23 different homes, including foster homes, because of abuse and neglect by his biological parents, according to his clemency application.

Among other details Deck’s lawyers shared with the governor: Deck was beaten as a child to the point of having welts. He was sexually abused by men his mother brought home. Deck and his three siblings were left alone often without food, and were taught by their mother how to steal, the clemency application said.

Rosener, the middle child of the Longs, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the family is tired of delays. She said she doesn’t think the governor should have mercy on Deck because of an abusive childhood.

“There’s a lot of kids with a rough childhood and they don’t go and kill,” she said Saturday. “That was his choice.”

In 1985, at the age of 20, Deck was arrested for stealing a riding lawnmower and jailed for a week. Shortly after he got out of jail, he returned to help two men escape. He passed a hacksaw blade through the window. Deck was caught and sent to prison for burglary and aiding an escape. He would later rack up additional convictions for burglary.

After he was released to a halfway house in St. Louis, he got a job as a server at an Italian restaurant but was soon sent back to prison on a parole violation.

His murder trial revealed a connection between Deck and the Longs. When Deck was a teen, he lived with a relative in the De Soto area and knew the Longs briefly. He and one of the couple’s grandchildren would sneak into the couple’s home and steal money from a safe, where the Longs kept profits from their gas station overnight.

The couple

Zelma Long loved to travel, fish and watch “Wheel of Fortune” on TV. She was a lifelong resident of Jefferson County and prom queen in 1946 at De Soto High School. She retired as an elementary school teacher after 30 years, primarily teaching third grade in Crystal City.

James Long drove a truck route delivering candy, tobacco and other products door-to-door. He later owned a service station, café and liquor store for many years about a mile from his home. As a boy, he learned farming from his grandparents, and every year of his married life maintained a garden. He also was a top bowler in Jefferson County and liked to hunt.

The Longs loved competitive fishing, always trying to catch one more fish, said their daughter-in-law, Karen Long, 67, of Lake Ozark, Missouri. “They were always trying to out-fish each other,” she said. “Their go-to fish was crappie, and Zelma always said when the red buds start to bloom it’s almost crappie time.”

James Long grew up in St. Louis County. After marrying Zelma, he built a two-bedroom home for them on what would become Long Road. He built additions to the home as they raised seven children.

The couple also had 15 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. The month before they died, they celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary. Their children already were planning a big surprise party for their 50th.

The crime

On the night of the murders, Deck and his sister Tonia Cummings, after plotting with another man, went to the Longs’ home intending to rob them. They knocked on the door, pretending to need directions. Zelma Long invited them inside and gave directions while her husband wrote them down.

Deck pulled a pistol from his waistband and demanded money. The Longs said they’d give Deck what they had on hand: They handed over jewelry and other items from the safe. Zelma retrieved about $200 from her purse in the kitchen. It was her bingo money. The couple also gave Deck a tin canister containing mainly quarters. James Long even offered to write Deck a check.

“That’s just how nice he was,” Deck told police, according to a detective’s testimony.

Deck ordered the Longs to lie facedown on their bed, and Deck paced for 10 minutes at the foot of the bed debating whether to kill them. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what to do,” Deck said in a taped confession. “I knew they had already seen me. So I shot them.”

Police arrested Deck on a tip, and he confessed. He was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to death. His sister, now 53, is confined at the Chillicothe Correctional Center for her role in the crimes. She is serving a 70-year sentence for second-degree murder.

In 2002, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld Deck’s convictions for murder but overturned the death sentences, citing a problem with missing jury instructions. That meant Jefferson County prosecutors retried the penalty phase in the spring of 2003; this second jury also recommended the death penalty.

After he was sentenced a second time, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that sentence in 2005, citing the prejudice caused by Deck being shackled in front of the sentencing jury. The court said it was unconstitutional to shackle capital murder defendants as juries decide their penalty, unless the state justifies the need.

He was sentenced to death for a third time in 2008.

But in 2017, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry determined that “substantial” evidence arguing against the death penalty in Deck’s first two penalty phases had been unavailable for the third. Witnesses who could have focused on mitigation evidence — to bring compassion or mercy from jurors — had died, couldn’t be found or developed “hostile attitudes” and declined to cooperate in the more than 10 years since he was convicted, Perry wrote.

Perry called Deck’s third penalty-phase trial “fundamentally unfair from even before it began.” Perry ordered that Deck serve life in prison without parole.

In October 2020, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restored the death penalty, ruling that Deck should have raised his concern first in state court, not federal court.

If his execution moves forward, Deck would be the fifth person to die by lethal injection in Missouri in nearly 5 1/2  years. The most recent to be executed were Mark Christeson, in January 2017; Russell Bucklew, in October 2019; Walter Barton, in May 2020; and Ernest Johnson, in October 2021.

Johnson killed three convenience store workers in Columbia. Barton stabbed to death a woman who ran a trailer park in Ozark. Bucklew killed his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend in Cape Girardeau County. Christeson killed a woman and her two children in Maries County.


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