Twenty-five years later, Diane Downs still insists that she is innocent of shooting her children, one fatally, in a crime that riveted Oregonians and was recounted in an Ann Rule book and a TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett. Next Tuesday, she comes up for a parole hearing.
SALEM, Ore. — Twenty-five years later, Diane Downs still insists that she is innocent of shooting her children, one fatally, in a crime that riveted Oregonians and was recounted in an Ann Rule book and a TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett.
Next Tuesday, she comes up for a parole hearing. Anticipating a crowd of reporters and others, the parole board has moved its hearing to a community college studio.
Downs, now 53, was convicted in 1984. Suspicion turned to her shortly after she arrived at a Springfield hospital, her three children wounded and a bullet in her left arm, shouting, “Somebody just shot my kids!”
The prosecution said Downs shot them because she hoped to free herself to rekindle a romance with a married Arizona man.
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Key testimony came from her oldest daughter, Christie Ann, who was 8 when shot. A 7-year-old daughter, Cheryl, died from her wounds and Downs’ 3-year-old son, Daniel, was paralyzed.
Sobbing at times, Christie Ann testified that her mother took a gun out of the trunk of the parked car and opened fire.
Oregonians were shocked and captivated by the horrific story through a six-week trial, at which Downs claimed that a man shot the children.
“Over the years, I have told you and the rest of the world that a man shot me and my children. I have never changed my story,” she wrote in her parole application.
Prosecutors scoff and point to her varying stories: A “bushy-haired stranger” flagged down her car and shot her and the children. Or the shootings were done by two men wearing ski masks. Or the shootings were the doings of drug dealers and corrupt law enforcement officials.
“Downs continues to fail to demonstrate any honest insight into her criminal behavior,” Lane County District Attorney Douglas Harcleroad wrote the parole board. “… Even after her convictions, she continues to fabricate new versions of events under which the crimes occurred.”
Her chief prosecutor at the time, Fred Hugi, is now retired. He adopted the surviving children, who are reported to have productive adult lives.
Harcleroad said Danny remains paralyzed from the chest down and “will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Christie has permanent partial paralysis on one side of her body.”
After the trial, Ann Rule had a best-seller with “Small Sacrifices,” and Farrah Fawcett played Downs in a made-for-TV movie.
Downs had 10 days of freedom when she escaped in 1987, scaling a Salem prison fence in broad daylight at a time when the prison was short of staff.
After capturing her, Oregon officials sent her out of state. At the hearing, she will testify from the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, Calif.
In prison, Downs got an associate’s college degree in general studies but says she has had nothing to gain from prison programs or self-help groups since being transferred to the California prison system in 1993.
“I don’t run drugs or brew hooch,” she wrote the parole board. “… In 25 years behind these steel bars, I have NOT cracked one of these ‘ladies’ in the head and if you had lived inside this place you might understand what an accomplishment that is.”
Before Oregon voters in 1994 approved mandatory minimum sentences for major crimes, prisoners were eligible for early release. There are still hundreds of prisoners like Downs eligible for such consideration because their crimes predate Measure 11.
At the hearing Downs will not be allowed to give a statement. Instead, she will respond to questions posed by the three members of the parole board.
Prosecutors and victims, or their representatives, can be heard in person, by phone or in writing.
After the testimony, the board will deliberate in private and announce its decision, expected on the same day. It rarely grants such requests.
If Downs’ parole is denied, her next chance for reconsideration will be in two years. If she ever is granted parole, her release will be delayed 14 months for the extra sentence she received for her 1987 escape.