PALMER -- George Long, the adoptive grandfather at the center of an infamous Valley child-abuse case, for the first time spoke publicly Thursday about his role -- four years after he kicked off a major investigation by picking up the phone.
Long made the 911 call in July 2004 that eventually alerted authorities to the grim living conditions at the compound he and his wife, Shirley, shared with Sherry and Patrick Kelley off Misty Lake Road: five adopted children without access to running water or toilets or bedrooms, sleeping under tarps, going hungry, and suffering sometimes bizarre punishments.
Stories emerged of a 13-year-old boy chained to a tree or confined, naked, in a coffin-like box. A younger boy suffered from untreated maggot-infested burns his mother cleaned with peroxide or rubbing alcohol.
On Thursday afternoon, Long spoke publicly before the Palmer District Court judge about to sentence him for chaining his adoptive grandson to a dog run, which resulted in a misdemeanor assault charge.
Long told Judge William Estelle he called 911 around midnight July 8, 2004, because he needed help with the children, who were out of control, tearing up a garden and fighting instead of doing the watering. His daughter, Sherry Kelley, wouldn't discipline them and was tending her 6-year-old adopted daughter in the greenhouse. Their adoptive father, Patrick Kelley -- who only spent weekends at the compound -- worked at a nearby pond.
Long said he chained up his grandson to "save him from being thumped around by the others."
Then he called emergency dispatchers, he said, though it meant authorities would likely break up the family.
"When I called 911, I knew it was over," Long said. The call led to the arrest of the Kelleys and the Longs and the removal of the kids from the home.
On Thursday, the judge sentenced George Long, who was convicted by a jury of the single assault charge, to parenting classes, two years probation, and to a jail term that amounts to the roughly 75 days he's already spent behind bars. Nearly 70, Long wears a pacemaker after suffering a heart attack, attorney John Pharr said.
Earlier, Long and his wife were both acquitted of failing to report abuse against children because of a lack of evidence.
The resolution of the Long case marks the end of a high-profile saga that stirred public outrage and sparked changes in the state foster care system, including more careful home studies of prospective foster parents and greater public access to some court hearings.
The Kelleys originally faced dozens of serious charges, among them kidnapping and assault. But after questions about evidence surfaced, they served 17 months in jail in a plea deal that dismissed all but three charges.
Prosecutor Rachel Gernat said in court Thursday that the Longs originally agreed to testify against the Kelleys, but later reneged.
Gernat, asked if she felt satisfied with the outcome of the larger case, said she was: The children were removed from a dangerous situation.
"They're able to live their lives," she said. "That's the ultimate goal of any prosecution involving children, to be sure the children are safe."
George Long, outside the courtroom after the hearing ended, said he was trying to "do good in my old age" when he called authorities but also acknowledged his own delays in intervening as things spiraled out of control.
"As the situation progressed, I saw less and less," he said.
Find Zaz Hollander online at adn.com/contact/zhollander or call 352-6711.