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Longoria guilty in Donnelly abduction case

By Eric Ebert

West Central Tribune

WILLMAR -- The trial for a 20-year-old Elbow Lake man ended Wednesday afternoon with the jury deliberating for little more than 30 minutes before returning five verdicts of guilty.

Ernest Ray Longoria faced three kidnapping charges, first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges and a charge of violating a no-contact order after tying up his ex-girlfriend May 7 in her Donnelly home before raping and kidnapping her.

The trial -- originally a Stevens County trial -- was moved to Kandiyohi County after the granting of a defense motion that argued pre-trial media coverage may have tainted the jury pool.

The Kandiyohi County jury heard two days of testimony before returning verdicts of guilty on two of the three kidnapping charges, both counts of criminal sexual conduct and the violation of the no-contact order. The jury did not deliberate on the third kidnapping charge, a lesser charge of false imprisonment, after convicting Longoria of the two other kidnapping charges.

Longoria is scheduled to appear at a sentencing hearing March 19 at 4 p.m. in Morris.

After raping her in her Donnelly home, Longoria drove his ex-girlfriend to Elbow Lake and told her he was taking her to Texas. Longoria and the woman were stopped May 8 by a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper along Interstate 29 in Brookings County, according to the criminal complaint.

Stevens County Attorney Charlie Glasrud said the outcome of the trial was appropriate. He said Longoria will be sentenced in Morris at a later date, but was unsure when. Longoria faces a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison for the rape of his ex-girlfriend. "Not to say that it couldn't be more," he added.

Glasrud said aggravating factors in the case may result in the judge handing down a more severe sentence. "I think that a kidnapping charge can be run consecutively to a rape charge," he continued. Consecutive sentences would run one after the other, resulting in a longer prison stay.

Glasrud said it seems reasonable for Longoria to be punished additionally for the secondary act of kidnapping.

Longoria took the stand Wednesday as the first witness for the defense. Longoria choked up when discussing his prior relationship with the woman, struggling at times to answer questions. Longoria disputed few of the facts presented throughout the trial during his testimony.

During closing arguments, Longoria's attorney, Kenneth Kludt, warned jurors that the world is not as simple as it seems.

"I'm not gonna stand here and tell you my client is innocent of all charges," Kludt said. He went on to ask the jury to convict his client of the lesser of the charges -- third-degree criminal sexual conduct and false imprisonment. "Mr. Longoria was acting out a love fantasy," Kludt said.

The jury also heard from 20-year-old Jocelyn Deutsch, who notified authorities about Longoria after the woman spoke to Deutsch in the bathroom at a South Dakota rest area.

Deutsch and the people with whom she was traveling called 911 and left the rest area before Longoria, but Deutsch said she could see Longoria's vehicle behind them while they were traveling south along Interstate 29. She recounted how she called 911 a second time after several highway patrolmen passed in the northbound lane.

"I told the operator that three highway patrol had already passed us and I was getting worried," she said. The fourth, she testified, turned around and stopped Longoria.

Although not allowed into testimony, Deutsch was later given the Everyday Hero Award from the governor of South Dakota for her efforts leading to Longoria's arrest.

Testimony was also heard from Stevens County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Dingman and South Dakota Highway Patrolman Josh Olson about the route Longoria used to travel from Donnelly and also about the discovery of a part of the rope believed used in the assault.

In the trial's first day on Tuesday, Glasrud called several witnesses, including a South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation agent, the 19-year-old woman who is the alleged victim and the woman's mother.

The West Central Tribune does not typically identify victims of alleged sexual abuse.

The young woman stared straight at Glasrud throughout her testimony. As she recalled the alleged events of the rape and kidnap, she was visibly shaken and wiped tears from her eyes on several occasions.

She testified that Longoria had allegedly abused her before they had ended their three-year relationship last February. She also recounted how she had taken out an $80,000 life insurance policy for her child because she feared Longoria was going to kill her.

As her testimony continued, the woman glanced only briefly at Longoria. She recalled how she told a woman at a rest area in South Dakota that she had been kidnapped and needed her to call the police. "She gave me a hug and told me everything would be all right," she testified.

Jurors also heard from the woman's mother. The mother recounted several frantic phone calls she had with her daughter while the alleged kidnapping was taking place, and how she contacted local authorities throughout the duration of the incident.

South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation agent Brian Zeeb testified through recorded deposition Tuesday. The testimony was recorded at an earlier date because Zeeb was not available during the trial.

According to Zeeb's testimony, Longoria said he had gone to his ex-girlfriend's home in Donnelly to see her and their then 19-month-old son. There were two no-contact orders against Longoria at the time.

Zeeb's testimony about his interviews with Longoria painted a remorseful picture. Zeeb indicated that Longoria was regretful during questioning about the alleged sexual encounter with the woman and alleged attempt to take her to Texas.

"He felt that he had done something wrong," Zeeb said.

Zeeb said Longoria admitted that he had tied up the woman throughout the duration of the sexual encounter and the trip to Longoria's parents' home in Elbow Lake. Longoria allegedly drove the woman and their child to Elbow Lake after the sexual encounter. He and the woman left Elbow Lake after spending the night.

Longoria's attorney, Kenneth Kludt, did not question either Zeeb or the young woman.

Kludt questioned the woman's mother about her involvement in the couple's original breakup. He also asked about an engagement between the young woman and Longoria.

"I don't know who you talked to," the mother quickly responded. She then conceded that her daughter and Longoria had been briefly engaged, but that she had not known about it until after the engagement had been called off.

Eric Ebert is a reporter for the West Central Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications.