How I Convinced a Death-Row Murderer Not to Die:

When Christian Longo asked if I wanted to watch him die, I told him I did.

He asked me this over the phone, calling collect from inside his prison cell — the yellow cordless passed down the line, cell to cell, hands reaching through bars — on death row at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The reason he wanted to die, he said, was fairly simple. After half a decade spent sealed inside a white concrete box for more than twenty-one hours a day, with only other murderers as neighbors and with no hope of ever again seeing the outside world, he’d had enough. He was sick of prison and sick of himself, and he thought there might be a way to make his death meaningful. So he was dropping his appeals, he told me, and would likely be executed, by lethal injection, in a matter of months.

Why he was calling me — and why I wanted to watch him die — was not so simple. By the time I received this call, last February, as I was watching a Dora the Explorer video with my children early on a Saturday evening, I’d known Christian Longo for seven years. In all this time I’d never been able to make sense of him, to reconcile the bright and dryly funny person I knew (he calls the yellow cordless his “cell” phone), the guy I sometimes referred to as my friend, with the man who’d been convicted of the most unimaginable of crimes. In 2001 he had strangled his wife and two-year-old daughter inside their condominium on the Oregon coast, stuffed them in suitcases, and sunk them in a bay. Then he drove his four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to a nearby bridge, tied rocks to their legs, and tossed them into frigid water, alive.

I was drawn into Longo’s life through the most improbable of circumstances — after the murders, while on the lam in Mexico, he took on my identity, even though we’d never met. Starting from this bizarre connection, using charm and guile and a steady stoking of my journalist’s natural curiosity (he was innocent, he was framed, he had proof, he would show me), he soon became deeply enmeshed in my own life.

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