Kimberly Long spent the day of Oct. 5, 2003, bar-hopping around the Corona area with her boyfriend, Oswaldo “Ozzy” Conde, and their friend, Jeff Dills.
The three ended the day at a bar called Maverick’s and then went to the home she shared with Long, around 11 p.m. There, she and Conde got into a fight, after which Long left with Dills to cool off.
She returned home around 2 a.m. on Oct. 6. During a recent phone interview from the California Institution for Women in Corona, about 65 miles from Palm Springs, Long choked back tears while talking about that night.
“I remember walking through the door, and it was unlocked when I came in. I saw a light on in the back. I kicked off my shoes, and I saw Ozzy on the couch, and I called his name,” said Long, who was an emergency-room nurse at the time. “I walked over to the light to turn it on, and when I did that, I turned around, and I saw a big blood stain on the couch. I saw him and I realized that something went wrong.
“I thought maybe he had gotten into a fight. I don’t remember what I did first, to be honest. I think I ran outside and tried to get Jeff. I ran through the house, and I can’t really remember. I do remember that I got real close and I looked at him, and I realized with what I saw, there was nothing I could do to help him.
“I didn’t know if he was still breathing or not. In my head, he should be breathing, and there’s no reason someone should be dead on my couch. At that point, I got the phone, and I called 911. I forgot what they had asked me. I put down the phone. I ran back outside and waited for the cops, and they couldn’t come quick enough. I came back in, and I called again, and the lady on the phone asked me if I could help him. I said, ‘I’m a nurse, yes, I’m going to help him.’ I went over to him. I grabbed his hand and I tried to pull him off the couch. He didn’t wake up. I knew what that meant, and I ran outside screaming, and then the cops came.”
What caused the argument between Long and Conde?
“I was drinking all day long,” Long said. “I think Ozzy said I was running around at the bar we were at; I wasn’t paying attention to him, and I was talking to everybody else, and I think that’s what the argument started out as. By the time we got home, I was really agitated and just wanted him out of the house. I said a bunch of horrible things and told him to get out. I think the argument was about me being drunk and a flirt.”
Long said she loved Conde dearly. “I had known Ozzy since I was 11 or 12 years old. Ozzy didn’t have an enemy in the whole world. He was a great guy—he was funny, and he had his own sense of humor. He loved his kids so much. He loved his mom, and he loved life. I wouldn’t have thought there was a person in this world who wanted to harm him. I would have spent the rest of my life with him.”
While there was reportedly blood on every wall of the living room, there was no blood on Long or her clothing. The drains inside and outside of the house were dry, indicating there wasn’t an attempted cleanup.
Despite the fact that there were other possible suspects, Long was charged with murder. The prosecutor alleged that Long killed Conde and then changed her clothes before dialing 911. Also, Dills made a statement saying that he dropped Long off at 1:30 a.m., not 2 a.m., as Long had claimed—which gave police a reason to suspect her.
Unfortunately, Dills was not given a chance to clear up that discrepancy: He was killed in a motorcycle accident before the trial took place.
Long’s first trial ended in a hung jury, with nine of the 12 jurors voting to acquit. In 2009, her second trial ended in a guilty verdict for second-degree murder—even though the judge himself stated he would have acquitted her. Two alternate jurors also reportedly said later that something must have gone wrong during deliberations, because the evidence against Long was very thin.
She was given a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
Alissa Bjerkhoel (right) is part of the California Innocence Project, which is part of the California Western School of Law in San Diego; she has been working on Long’s appeal. The United States has the largest population of incarcerated people in the world, with an estimated 2.3 million people behind bars.
“About 1,500 to 2,000 cases per year come through our office,” Bjerkhoel said during a phone interview. “We’re staffed with a lot of attorneys, and a lot of volunteers read through these cases and find cases where someone is really innocent. It’s a really long process, and we’ve had cases in our office for about 10 years before we finally find that magic bullet that says they didn’t commit this crime.
“A lot of investigation goes into it. We have volunteers such as retired law-enforcement officers, and it’s just years of digging through documents, the case, talking to witnesses, and getting forensic tests if we can.”
Bjerkhoel said Long’s case shares common traits with other California Innocence Project cases.
“It’s a classic case of whoever finds the body did it,” she said. “I think in the beginning of the investigation, the cops really weren’t suspecting Kim, but you do have to think the significant other can be a suspect. That’s typical cop protocol.
“For Kim, the entire case is problematic, because it rests entirely on a single witness. She was gone with Jeff Dills, and Jeff dropped her off at home. Kim says, ‘He dropped me off at 2 a.m.,’ but Jeff says, ‘I dropped her off around 1:30 a.m.’ The 911 call doesn’t come in until around 2:09 a.m. So if you’re a cop, and you believe Jeff, all of a sudden, you have a huge time gap that Kim can’t account for. All of a sudden, you stop believing her story.
“Jeff ran a red light on his motorcycle, and a semi actually T-boned him in Riverside, so he ends up dying before the trial happens. So there’s not a real opportunity to ask whether Jeff was confused on this timeline.”
Bjerkhoel also mentioned another potential reason for the discrepancy.
“He talked to the cops, and he told them that he knew he was a suspect,” she said. “The cops told him he was, and apparently the media back then had played some news clips (saying) that the suspects were motorcycle people, because neighbors heard motorcycles driving away from the crime scene. Guess who owns a motorcycle? It’s Jeff. Now you have a motive to place himself far away from Kim. He’s going to say, ‘I have to distance myself from that, so I’m going to say I dropped her off at 1:30 a.m.’
“Had it not been for that time gap, there’s no possibility this case would have went in front of a jury. The entire case hangs on that time frame.”
Bjerkhoel cited evidence that she says proves Long did not commit this murder.
“I’ve had two doctors look at the medical aspects of this case—looking at the autopsy reports, the crime scene, the reports from the responding firefighters and paramedics,” she said. “We needed a time of death, because the time of death is critical. The statement of the paramedics is, ‘When we got there, the body was cold to the touch.’ Rigor mortis had set in. When you die, your blood stops circulating, and it starts pooling. It usually takes about an hour. … Rigidity had set in. That doesn’t happen until an hour after someone is dead. That proves Kim didn’t commit this crime.”
Bjerkhoel said Long’s original defense attorney also made some major errors.
“I really do think her original defense attorney blew it by not calling a time-of-death expert,” she said. “… The only detail in the case is, ‘What time did this guy die?’ The experts I’ve talked to say that Ozzy died around midnight, not 1:30 in the morning. It’s a complete failure of the original defense.”
Kim’s parents, Roger and Darleen Long (right), said it’s been a nightmare to watch what their daughter has gone through since the death of Conde. However, it’s catalyzed them to take action. They have taken part in California Innocence Project marches and now work to spread awareness about not only their daughter’s case, but others as well.
“We never really had a cause, and we went about our normal routine,” Darleen Long said. “When the California Innocence Project came around, it opened our eyes that things don’t always go right in a courtroom. You’re supposed to punish the guilty, and the innocent should go home. This is not what happened in our case. As we went along through the years, and Kim went to prison, there was a fire inside, and it really opened our eyes. That’s when we said, ‘We have to do something, and we have to help.’ We never thought we could do the things we’re doing today.”
In an effort to make the best of a terrible situation, Kimberly Long said she has found ways to be productive.
“I’ve been here for about six years,” she said. “I am a fire-camp trainer, so I train the girls to become firefighters. I do that about five or six hours a day. After that, I run aerobics two days a week. I’m a mentor and a sponsor to a lot of girls.
“I play a lot of dominoes and drink a lot of coffee,” she said with a laugh. “I try to spend my time as positively as possible. I don’t have any write-ups. I’m very quiet, and I don’t have any problems.”
However, she’s missing a lot of key moments that she should be enjoying with her family.
“I do have two children, and I’m missing graduations, birthdays and holidays,” she said. “That does stress me out.
“How do I deal with it? I just do. … I just get out there, move around and stay busy. My job helps me so much because I go out there and help other girls who have so many issues and so many problems. Dealing with them six hours a day keeps my mind off my stressful moments. By the time I get back, it’s not as bad as it could be.”
There are some encouraging signs regarding Long’s appeal. In May, the California Supreme Court requested more information on the case. There is also additional evidence: A cigarette butt was found in an incense burner at the crime scene. It was tested for DNA, but has not yet been run against the state database.
Long said she’s optimistic.
“I know I’m going home,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time. … I know I’m coming home, and I have the utmost faith in the California Innocence Project—and faith in God.”
For more information on the California Innocence Project, visit californiainnocenceproject.org.