SALEM, Ore. — Diane Downs, a mother convicted of shooting her children and killing one of them, has been denied parole after serving nearly 25 years.
SALEM, Ore. — The more Diane Downs talked, the more sensational became her claims about the night her kids were shot.
Downs has been in prison for nearly 25 years for shooting her three children, killing one, on a rural road in Oregon — a horrific crime that grabbed national attention.
Over the years, she has maintained her innocence, as she did today before a parole board refused to free her. But her story has varied wildly.
First, it was a bushy-haired stranger who shot the children. Then, it was two men wearing ski masks. Then a man she stopped to smoke marijuana with.
Most Read Local Stories
- Meet Loren Culp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who wants to unseat Jay Inslee
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 20: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Researchers attach cameras to Pacific Northwest orcas, revealing a marvelous underwater world WATCH
- Fall is about to start, and so is the rainy season, with up to an inch in a single day this week
- Seattle is an 'anarchist' city, Trump administration says
Downs now claims she was dating a man who purported to be an FBI agent. Her family, she says, was attacked by a man who flagged her down on May 19, 1983, as she was driving to meet a stranger who claimed to have documents for an investigation.
Her daughter, 7-year-old Cheryl Lynn, was killed. Two other children, 3-year-old Danny and 8-year-old Christie Ann, were seriously wounded.
A jury found Downs guilty and she was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years.
At a parole board hearing today, Downs’ story grew even more fantastic. She displayed a book that she said a fellow prisoner had given her just four days earlier.
It included information about the murder of an uncle, she said, which somehow was connected to the State Department. The book, she says, is titled “All Night, All Day, Angels Watching Over Me.”
The actual book, however, does not include any conspiracy theories. It is about encounters with angels. Her version appeared to be altered and contained photographs.
Downs referred to the book often. Presiding board member Candace Wheeler often had to steer her back to the questions.
Over about 21/2 hours, Downs’ emotional displays ranged from tears to sarcastic humor. The three-member board took less than a half-hour to determine she was still a danger to society. Her next hearing will be 2011.
Now 53, Downs appeared by video link from prison in Chowchilla, Calif.
She sat expressionless, her hands folded on the table in front of her, when the board announced its decision. “Thank you,” was all she said.
Doug Welch, a retired detective who investigated the shootings, attended the hearing.
“I don’t think Diane will ever give it up, ever,” he said. “She’ll go to her grave denying she ever shot her kids.”
At her trial, the prosecution alleged Downs shot them because she believed they were in the way of her relationship with a married man. Downs was a 27-year-old postal worker who had recently been divorced and relocated from Arizona to Oregon.
In the years that followed, her story was the subject of a book by Ann Rule and a made-for-television movie starting Farrah Fawcett.
Downs made headlines again in 1987 when she escaped from prison. She was captured 10 days later. Since then she has been housed at facilities in New Jersey, Washington and finally California.
Christie, who testified against her mother, and Danny were later adopted by a prosecutor in the case, Fred Hugi. Now adults, they did not testify at the hearing. Danny is confined to a wheelchair.
In Chowchilla, Downs sat at a desk wearing a T-shirt. Her hair was cut shorter than it had been in a recent prison mug shot. During the hearing she went off on tangents, and her tales grew progressively more convoluted.
At one point, she said she had been married to a man since 1981, but wouldn’t allow him to come to the prison because of the media scrutiny. Pressed further, she said that man was killed in 2002.
She choked up when talking about Cheryl.
“Cheryl was an awesome kid,” she said. “Cheryl was funny, she was lovable, she was cuddly. She knew everybody in the neighborhood. On Christmas Day she would take her presents out and take them to other kids because, ‘Mom, she didn’t get a Barbie.’
“Cheryl had a lot to offer this world, a lot.”
But Downs refused to take responsibility.
“Are you asking me if I’m a killer?” she said. “Did I shoot my children? Absolutely not.”
Lane County District Attorney F. Douglass Harcleroad opposed her release in a letter to the board.
“Downs continues to fail to demonstrate any honest insight into her criminal behavior,” Harcleroad wrote. “She continues to blame others for the commission of her crimes, and blames her attorney, the police officers, the prosecutor and others for her convictions. Even after her convictions, she continues to fabricate new versions of events under which the crimes occurred.”
Dave Brewer, who sat on the jury that heard Downs’ case in 1984, attended the hearing.
“It provided some closure,” he said. “It’s nice when you convict someone of a crime like this that they stay convicted.”