Dead Reckoning

Only Michael Furlong knows how his wife fell to her death. But the authorities know this isn't the first time he's lost a mate.

"I told her I was holding on to her for everything I am, everything I have, and everything we are," Furlong told police. She replied, "Just let go," and stood up.

The report continues: "Michael stood up and grabbed hold of her biceps. Deanna pulled away, and Michael's hand slid down to her elbows, then her wrists. She continued to pull away until he only had hold of her hands...Deanna screamed 'Let go of me!' and jerked away."

"I couldn't catch her," Michael told the officer. "She just went down. She hit the floor. I went running down the stairs and held her and begged her to talk to me."

After holding his wife, applying a washcloth to a bump on her face, straightening her body and "shaking her head by the hair," Furlong said he performed CPR until he was exhausted. Then he dialed 911.

Later, with fire personnel working over Deanna's close-to-lifeless body and the Longmont police on the scene, Furlong "crouched down, hugged his knees and was crying...He tried repeatedly to get back to his wife, saying, 'I want to help.'"

One of Michael's shirt buttons had been torn off. There were scratch marks on his neck and back and a dark contusion on his forehead, for which he never offered a convincing explanation. There were "several very small injuries...on his fingers and knuckles," according to the police report. Later, Furlong said he'd sustained those injuries playing with his dog.

"Based on the amount of injuries to both M. and D., it is apparent that the disturbance between them was far more involved than M. indicated," wrote one of the investigators.

Michael was asked by a detective, "Do you think you caused this to happen?"
"By trying to hang on?" he responded. "Yeah, I did. I did." But he insisted over and over again, "I did not push her down those stairs."

The officers reported Michael had been curled into a fetal position during some of the questioning. Later testing revealed cocaine in his system.

After two days on life support at Longmont United Hospital, Deanna died. The coroner's report listed the cause of death as "fracture dislocation of the vertebral column...with associated crush injury of the spinal cord." It gave the manner of death as homicide.

The contested divorce papers were never found, says Deanna's father.

If the high school photographs of Deanna Furlong and Linda Robson are placed side by side, the two women look like sisters, says Breister, the El Paso County lieutenant. Both were slender and attractive, with lively eyes and long dark hair.

And they were similar in other ways, too. Both confounded the stereotypes surrounding battered women: They were strong personalities, effective in the worlds they inhabited. Both seemed to have a knack for inspiring profound love and loyalty. But Deanna was older than Linda and came from a stable, nurturing and loving family; this support system may have helped her prevent Michael from beating her or the children. Deanna also managed to convince most of her friends that, despite the looming tensions in the Furlong household, she was keeping the situation under control.

She was wrong.
None of Deanna's friends want her remembered as a faceless victim of domestic violence. Deanna's friends, like Robson's, search for ways to communicate her particularity, her specialness. The great calzones she cooked; the huge burritos, slathered with cheese and sour cream, that she would consume at the Armadillo on her lunch breaks--while remaining infuriatingly slender; what they call the "F.U." eyebrow that she'd sometimes cock at her boss, and the facetious hand-on-hip stance she'd adopt when someone got ahead of her at the copy machine.

"When she walked, her hips would go from one side to the other," says Terry Roberts. "She had such a walk...She was funny...with her little ponytails bouncing..."

Deanna was genuinely kind, her co-workers say. After her death, they discovered that she'd been creating the invoices the company's landscaper used for billing because he wasn't computer literate. She was helping a legally blind co-worker wade through thickets of paperwork to find out what benefits he was entitled to and how many hours he could work without losing them.

"I miss being frustrated with her," says Hammer. "I miss, in this world, her sense of fairness and goodness."

"I have dreams about Deanna a lot," says Roberts. "She's always trying to tell me that it was an accident. I don't know if it's my subconscious telling me to let it go, stop being so angry. I'm always wanting to touch her and tell her how much I miss her, and she's there and I can do it. It gives me a little feeling of peace the next day."

Under District Attorney Alex Hunter, the Boulder County District Attorney's Office has long been criticized for relying too heavily on plea bargains and letting many homicides go uncharged or under-charged ("He Aims to Plea," September 24, 1998). But many legal experts agree that, given the available evidence, Deanna Furlong's homicide would be difficult to prosecute--although an aggressive prosecutor might have decided to take the risk.

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