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Spirit Lake woman sentenced to life in prison for murder of foster child, abuse of others

Tammy Longie, along with her husband Erich Longie Jr., were sentenced to life in prison following the murder of a 5-year-old and abuse of other children.

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Tammy and Erich Longie
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FARGO — A Spirit Lake Nation woman has been sent to prison for the rest of her life after she and her husband killed a young foster child.

North Dakota U.S. District Judge Peter Welte sentenced 47-year-old Tammy Jean Longie, 47, on Monday, Aug. 8, after she pleaded guilty in January to second-degree murder, child abuse and child neglect. The charges came after 5-year-old Raven Thompson was found dead on May 6, 2020, in the basement of Longie's home in Tokio, North Dakota.

Longie and her husband, 44-year-old Erich Longie Jr., were arrested for Raven's death, as well as for abusing her 7-year-old brother, Zane, and two of their biological children. At the time, 13 people, including eight children, were living in the three-bedroom home, according to a brief filed by Tammy Longie's attorney, Erin Bolinger.

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7-year-old Raven Thompson, who was found dead in the basement of the Longie household.
Submitted photo

The Longies had fostered Zane and Raven since July 2019 after their father spent time in behind bars.

In initially denying the abuse, Tammy Longie told investigators she found Raven dead in the basement before calling 911, according to court documents. Children in the house said the Longies hit the children, and medical providers noted their injuries were caused by physical abuse, a criminal complaint alleged.

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Authorities found Zane in the back of an SUV at the Longies' home, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota. He was taken to a hospital in Fargo and treated for over a month.

An autopsy report declared Raven's death was a homicide, with injuries consistent with "multiple episodes of inflicted trauma," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Tammy Longie's sentencing departed from federal guidelines that suggested she should serve between 210 and 262 months. Prosecutors argued for 360 months to life in prison since the defendant's conduct was extreme. The U.S. Attorney's Office also noted guidelines did not account for the physical and psychological injuries to the children.

Bolinger argued Tammy Longie should receive 240 months in prison. Erich Longie had control over the house and was the only adult who had a room to himself, Bolinger wrote in her brief.

Meanwhile, Tammy Longie slept in the living room and cared for the children, Bolinger said in suggesting the her client did everything in the house. She was exhausted and stressed from the situation, according to the brief.

When Raven was sick and started moaning on May 5, 2020, Erich Longie told his wife to "shut the girl up," Bolinger wrote.

"In the midst of the chaos and panic, Tammy didn’t have the strength to stand up to Erich and choose a different way of handling the situation," the attorney wrote.

Tammy Longie has expressed remorse for her crimes, Bolinger noted. The Longies need to be held accountable, but the Spirit Lake Nation also failed Raven, the attorney claimed. The girl and her brother should not have been placed with the Longies due to age preferences and suggestions by Tammy Longie and a social worker to have at most three children.

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"To approve foster placement when the house was already at capacity is not setting up either the foster family or the foster children for success," Bolinger said in her brief.

Attempts to reach Spirit Lake Social Services were unsuccessful.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl called the case tragic and horrifying, noting that the abuse to Raven and Zane "represented some of the worst of humanity."

“The children endured prolonged physical and emotional abuse by (Tammy) Longie, who was responsible for caring and protecting them," Puhl said Monday in a statement. "Today’s sentence ensures that she will be removed from her community forever.”

Tammy Longie may appeal her sentence, which is the maximum in the case, since it was above the guidelines. The federal public defender's office in South Dakota, which oversees Bolinger, declined to comment on Tammy Longie's punishment.

Erich Longie, 44, was sentenced in June to life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, child abuse and child neglect. He attempted to withdraw the pleas, saying he thought the murder charge would be dismissed when he signed his plea agreement.

He has filed a notice to appeal his sentence.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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