After being sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison, Dawn Long will be parole-eligible in less time than her ex-husband, Todd Long, has waited to see her sentenced for what began as an attempted murder case.
Two judges and eight cancelled trial dates later, Todd Long said he's relieved to be able to, for the first time in the three years and seven months since the caffeine poisoning that sent him to the hospital, go out in public without worry of seeing the woman who was at one point accused of trying to murder him.
Dawn Long was given a 15-year sentence with nine years suspended for one count of aggravated assault. The plea agreement she accepted in February allowed for a maximum sentence of 15 years with seven suspended, and Todd Long told The Daily Republic on Thursday that considering the restrictions of the deal, he was relieved by Judge Chris Giles' decision not to suspend additional time.
"It was a nice surprise," Todd Long said. "I think, the way it sounds to me from the state's attorney's office, the judge knew a lot of the evidence. I think he looked at everything carefully ... I don't want to say I'm happy with him, but with what he had to work with, as far as the plea and this, I'm happy with where it's at."
Out on bond for years
Todd Long told The Daily Republic on Thursday he thought the Davison County case might have moved faster from the beginning if bond had been kept higher when Dawn Long was charged with attempted murder. That was months after she was charged with setting fire to the house she and Todd Long used to live in.
"She wouldn't have been out of jail, running around, getting pregnant twice," Todd Long said. "I can see having a smaller bond on the fire, but when you get charged a second time for a felony, I think somebody should be looking at that and going like, 'No, this person needs to be in jail and off the streets.'"
Instead, Dawn Long paid 10 percent of a $250,000 bond and spent more than two and a half years among the public, serving 21 days in jail prior to sentencing. Earlier this year, she accepted a plea deal that dismissed attempted murder and reckless burning charges in exchange for a no contest plea to one count of aggravated assault.
Ashley Anson, one of Dawn Long's attorneys, said at the sentencing hearing that her client's employment status, a presentence evaluation stating she had a low risk of reoffending and the fact that she's given birth to one child while out on bond and is now expecting another all pointed in her favor.
"The state would ask that she not move on with her life," Anson said.
Deputy State's Attorney Bob O'Keefe said Dawn Long's two pregnancies instead were intended to garner sympathy from the court, in contrast with internet searches on how to kill someone and Todd Long's statements on the stand that Dawn Long had faked brain cancer when they began discussing divorce.
"When Dawn was asked to describe herself, (she said), 'I care about others, I put their needs before my own,'" O'Keefe said, referencing the presentence investigation. "This was a planned and calculated attack to cause her husband pain and injury, maybe even death. ... A person doesn't put others' needs in front of their own by faking cancer."
In terms of its outcome, Dawn Long's case was not abnormal among others that started with attempted murder charges.
Of the 34 people in South Dakota who were accused of attempted murder and accepted plea deals between 2014 and 2018, 19 were convicted of aggravated assault and are serving an average of just under eight years in prison. Seven others were convicted of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, which, like attempted first-degree murder, is a Class 2 felony.
However, Long's stands out among that same set of cases when it comes to the time it took to settle. Between when she was indicted for attempted murder - already nine months after Todd Long was hospitalized and the house fire occurred - and Feb. 21, the day she pleaded no contest to aggravated assault, 944 days passed.
"To me, the police and the state's attorney's office, they're doing what they need to do," Todd Long said. "But they're corrected by a judge that gives them a bond that they can just walk out."
From 2014 to 2018, 51 people, including Dawn Long, were charged with attempted first- or second-degree murder, according to a report from the South Dakota Unified Judicial System.
Of those people, 34 pleaded guilty or no contest to one or more charges, while seven cases went to trial, six were dismissed entirely and four are still pending.
The time it took for those 34 people to accept a plea varied widely, with the shortest being Daniel Zundel's 52-day span between the date his case was filed in Codington County and Jan. 28, 2015, the day he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Most accepted pleas within a year of charges being filed.
The time between Dawn Long's indictment and plea is about six months longer than that of anyone else charged in the past five years, and it's about three times as long as the average.
The Long case stretched through the transition period in 2017 during which Judge Chris Giles, who sentenced Dawn Long on Tuesday, took over the circuit court position previously held by Judge Timothy Bjorkman.
Todd Long said that while the Davison County State's Attorney's Office generally kept him updated on evidence and the general proceedings of the case, he was frustrated to see newer criminal cases regularly brought before the court and settled before Dawn Long's.
"It just sat there," he said about the case's progress during the fall of 2017. "Wouldn't we be the first one on the docket to go? We need to get this thing done."
While proceedings in the criminal case have now ended, Todd Long said his days of seeing Dawn Long in a courtroom are not yet over, as she's now taking him to divorce court to negotiate over property.
He also said he'll likely never receive money from the insurance company that covered the house where the fire took place and which he said was valued at $232,000.
"She would not meet with (the insurance company). If the insured won't meet with the insurance company, it's right in the policy that the claim is automatically denied," he said.
Todd Long said the past three years and seven months have also been hard on the son he and Dawn Long have in common, but that in the past month or so, he's seemed relieved.
"When I saw him on Tuesday afternoon, I told him it was done and she was going to prison," Todd Long said. "The only thing he asked is, 'how long?'"
During his testimony at the sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Todd Long said that throughout the case, their son has not wanted to see Dawn Long and declined to testify.
While Todd Long said he and his son are both working on moving on, he noted that he's still been going over the case in his head since sentencing.
"It's taken three years of my life that I'll never get back," he said.