The man he killed

It had been 14 years since she last saw him. Now looking at her father as he lay in the casket before her, she thought that he hadn't really changed. Same round face. Same shaved head. It was as if no time had passed.

But it had. And something was missing. She didn't see his trademark broad smile.

With his 69-year-old mother footing most of the bill, William McKinley Long's body had been flown from Dallas to this funeral home in Staten Island, New York. Some 50 people--friends, relatives, an ex-wife, and two grandchildren whom he never knew--had gathered to say goodbye. None had seen Long in more than a decade. In that time, he had passed his life as a homeless man on the streets of downtown Dallas--until an early morning last November, when Robert Sanchez looked from a second-story window of his Victorian-style home in East Dallas and saw him.

Sanchez's girlfriend told him that Long had a gun. On that dark night less than a minute after his girlfriend called 911, Sanchez fired his 12-gauge shotgun twice. The first shot was a warning, he later said. The shots passed through Sanchez's 6-foot fence, and one fatally struck Long on the street below, where he had been noisily stripping copper wire from an abandoned refrigerator in hopes of getting a few dollars. (Sanchez always maintained that he acted in self-defense after his girlfriend had awakened him, telling him that a man outside was holding a gun. But Long, in fact, was holding a long knife, which he was using for the refrigerator.)

In death, Dallas hasn't been particularly kind to the 50-year-old Long, say his daughter and his friends. Though Sanchez was charged with murder, he was convicted of a lesser charge, criminally negligent homicide, and sentenced to two years' probation. That victory, Long's friends say, happened because the defense vilified Long, emphasizing his criminal record and drug problems.

"I looked at him [in the courtroom], and it's like he got away with it," says 56-year-old Hilda Van Wormer, a Dallas homeowner who, like Long, grew up in New York. Standing in a yellow brick house on Worth Street that Long had been helping her renovate, she recalls meeting him five years ago. Back then, she had just moved to the city and was unloading her rented truck when she saw him coming down the block, nonchalantly pushing his shopping cart as if he hadn't a "care in the world," she says.

He asked whether she needed help. "We kind of connected," says Van Wormer in her Bronx twang.

"Yeah," she replied then. "I'll pay you." And for the next five years, she hired him off and on, giving him $5 an hour to help her restore several of the homes she is remodeling in the area. On days they worked together, she would pick him up at a nearby gas station. He was never late, never showed up drunk or high. After a hard day's work, they would often get some fried chicken at a nearby fast-food joint.

This month's jury decision doesn't satisfy his daughter Victoria Long, either.

She had traveled by train from her home in Fairfax, Virginia, to attend a few days of the trial. Before arriving, she had resolved that she would forgive her father's killer. The press, for its part, was quick to seize on that moment when--days before she learned the jury's sentencing verdict--she hugged Sanchez's wife, the woman who awoke her then-boyfriend that night. (Sanchez and the woman, Heather Hodges, married before the trial began, and she did not serve as a witness.)

But when she returned to Virginia, Long learned the trial's outcome. No jail time. She has been angry ever since.

"Mrs. Sanchez still has not apologized to me. I don't think they realize what has happened to me," says Long, 31. Every day she cries for her father.

"I just went through this on Saturday crying my heart out," says Long, a mother of two and a sergeant in the National Guard.

"I'm angry with Mr. Sanchez because he didn't have to shoot him," she says by phone, her voice shaky as she speaks through tears. "There's no way to justify that. No way. He should have been in jail for the rest of his life."

In the end, though, the defense persuaded 12 jurors that Long was nothing more than a career criminal. (An investigator had given them sketchy details of his police record, which included about a year's jail time for burglary.) David Lewis, Sanchez's court-appointed attorney, had said during the trial that his client, who had moved to the neighborhood weeks before the shooting, needed to arm himself in that "rough area" and that he had chased several homeless people off his porch.

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Lisa Singh
Contact: Lisa Singh