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Murder suspect sought help for anger, depression

By Elizabeth Leland and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
eleland@charlotteobserver.com and cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

In Mecklenburg's uptown jail, an inmate read that Kenny Chapman suffocated his wife just hours after telling staff at the county psychiatric hospital that he wanted to kill her.

To Tony Long, the circumstances sounded all too familiar.

Long sought help from the same hospital, CMC-Randolph, in August 2007. Like Chapman, Long said he was depressed and angry.

"I'd like to strangle my wife," he told a nurse, according to medical records from the visit. Long got a new prescription for antidepressants and went home with instructions to return in three to four weeks.

Two days later, his wife was dead.

Tony Long is charged with raping and strangling Sonia Long and with assaulting her boyfriend. He is in jail awaiting a death penalty trial next year.

Long spoke with the Observer about his experiences at CMC-Randolph against his attorney's advice. He said he felt compelled to speak out because he believes the Chapman case is not an isolated incident.

"It's not just a crack that Kenneth Chapman slipped through," Long said. "It is a great big hole."

'I'm about to explode'

Long, who is 38, had a history of alcoholism, anger and depression. He grew up in foster homes, and said he began drinking when he was a child.

He spent five years in prison in the 1990s for burglary and grand larceny, and had other convictions, including assault on a police officer.

He met Sonia in 1998, he said, and within a few months they moved in together. They soon began having problems and separated several times. Then Sonia became pregnant, he said, and they married in June 2000. Their daughter was born in September, and a second daughter in November 2001.

From then on, Long said they lived apart more than they lived together. He was lonely, he said, and missed his children.

Long sought help at least six times from CMC-Randolph between March 2006 and August 2007, complaining of depression and anger. Records show he was given new prescriptions on each visit but never hospitalized.

For three months in late 2006, he said he was treated for alcoholism at Rebound, a residential recovery center. While there, he said, he learned Sonia was pregnant by another man.

Records show he told a nurse at CMC-Randolph in October 2006: "I feel like I'm about to explode."

More violent thoughts

Soon after he left Rebound, Long said Sonia and their children moved back in with him because of her money problems.

Her son was born in June 2007.

Two months later, Sonia Long sought a restraining order against Long, asking that he be barred from the house they shared near Central Avenue and Eastway Drive. She said he threatened to "kill me, the kids, my friend and then himself."

A judge ruled that because Long had no history of abuse he could stay at the house. But the judge ordered him not to assault, threaten or harass his wife. Sonia moved that day to the battered women's shelter.

In an interview from jail, Long said he had reached "a point of disaster."

On Aug. 14, 2007, he returned to CMC-Randolph. According to records, he said his mood had grown worse over the past month since he had been prescribed a new antidepressant.

"I told the doctor then that the Wellbutrin she had started me on was provoking agitated, violent thoughts," Long said.

He told the staff he wanted to strangle his wife.

He was given a new prescription and sent home. Long said he didn't have money to get the new medicine, so he kept taking the Wellbutrin. He broke down the next day at work, he said. "I was hammered with emotions I couldn't deal with."

The following day, Aug. 16, Long said he stayed home from work. Sonia Long returned to the house with her boyfriend, who said she went inside to get her children's birth certificates.

Police say Long strangled his wife, and when her boyfriend went inside to check on her, Long stabbed him.

The boyfriend fled and alerted police.

Getting inpatient help

In jail, Long continued to struggle with mental illness.

Jail personnel were unable in five months to stabilize his medication.

A judge ordered that Long be transferred to Central Prison's mental health hospital in Raleigh for inpatient treatment - something Long said he wished he had received from CMC-Randolph.

"It would have made a world of difference ...," Long said. "I wouldn't be where I am right now."

Sonia Long's family wonders if she might be alive today, if Tony Long had gotten the help he needed.

They want him held accountable, but they were unaware that he had sought treatment.

"I just feel like they didn't do their job...," said Sonia Long's grandmother, Ona Murray. "I feel like them knowing this, they should have made somebody aware of it, or they should have done something to try to help him."

Staff writer Ames Alexander and researcher Marion Paynter contributed to this article.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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