Dead Reckoning

By the beginning of this year, Deanna Furlong had been thinking about divorcing her husband, Michael, for over two years. On the afternoon of January 5, she left work early and returned to their Longmont home, intent on getting him to sign divorce papers.

By evening, she lay dying at the foot of the stairs.
Questioned by the Longmont police, Michael Furlong admitted that he had forcibly restrained 36-year-old Deanna at the top of the stairs, holding her and begging for another chance--when suddenly, violently, she pulled back and stepped into thin air.

Friends and family members who watched Deanna die at Longmont United Hospital said she was heavily bruised, her face swollen almost beyond recognition.

On July 9, having pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in connection with Deanna's death in May, 38-year-old Michael Furlong appeared before Boulder District Judge Frank Dubofsky for sentencing. Under the plea deal, Furlong was expected to receive up to two years in Boulder County Jail on work release, followed by an indefinite period of probation. But Dubofsky had a surprise announcement: He wanted the sentencing continued for three weeks.

The probation officer responsible for the pre-sentencing report had said he felt Furlong should go to trial, and the judge wanted more time to study the issue. According to Dubofsky, the officer had seen an inaccurate summary of one of Furlong's comments to police. Although the summary indicated that Deanna had been "fighting vigorously" at the top of the basement stairs, the actual transcription of the police interview did not bear that out.

"I was holding her arms, trying to get her to stop that [Deanna was moving around, gathering laundry] and keep talking with me," Furlong had told the police. "I was holding her hands. I was holding tight. And she yelled, 'Let go!' and jerked away from me."

Dubofsky asked Deanna's father, Jack Kissell, to address the court. Kissell spoke strongly and simply. The family had agreed to the plea bargain, he said, because there seemed to be no alternative; he hoped the judge would impose the maximum sentence possible.

His daughter had suffered from serious eye problems, Kissell continued. She'd had six operations, was almost blind in one eye and had minimal vision in the second. To protect her vision, she had stopped water skiing and riding horses several years before.

"There's no way she would get into a fight unless she was in imminent danger of death," Kissell explained. Given "the bruises to her face and arms, it must have been a pretty good fight."

Dubofsky asked Kissell if Furlong had ever threatened his daughter. Kissell hesitated.

"She told me he told her he would fight her to keep custody of his daughter," he finally responded. "You can take that various ways." Kissell added that while Deanna had mentioned death threats to her best friend, she had not told him about them.

Deanna's fifteen-year-old son, Andy Luntsford, also took the stand. He said he was grieving not only for his mother but for his little sister, Jessica, who now lives with Furlong and his parents in Colorado Springs. "I was there when she was born," Andy said, weeping. "We've called. We've tried to get permission to see her. We couldn't even do that. I hold Michael responsible for both losses."

Prosecutor Trip DeMuth spoke in support of the plea bargain that had been arranged by the Boulder District Attorney's Office. DeMuth quoted the opinion of Boulder County Coroner John Meyer, who said that Deanna's injuries had resulted from a fall, not an assault.

"We are satisfied with the disposition," Sergeant Jim Bundy of the Longmont Police Department, which had investigated Deanna's death, told Dubofsky.

Outside the courtroom, Furlong's defense attorney, Peter Schild, agreed. "The facts don't support a more serious charge," he said. For this case, he added, a plea of criminally negligent homicide meant that his client "should not have been holding her arms and not letting her go in a zone of danger."

"We believe he's probably guilty of more than that," says Commander Tom Fixmer of the Longmont Police Department, "but we realize the shortcomings of our evidence and what we can prove, and I think this is about the best we can expect to get out of it."

After all, it's more than the justice system has gotten out of Michael Furlong before. And chances are he'll remain a free man.

Soon after Deanna Furlong's death, Fountain resident Patty Jacques received a phone call from Detective Shane Weis of the El Paso County Sheriff's Department. The call surfaced memories that had haunted the edge of her consciousness for over a decade.

Weis wanted to go over testimony Jacques had given in the 1986 murder of 26-year-old Linda Robson, who had also been in the process of breaking up when she was killed. Her boyfriend at the time? Michael Furlong.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman

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