On May 19, 1983, Elizabeth Diane Downs and her three small children were shot on a country road near Springfield, Oregon. Her 7-year old daughter Cheryl died but her 3-year old son Danny and her 8-year old daughter Christie survived. Within three weeks, Diane had lost custody of her remaining wounded children and had become the number one suspect in the eyes of the police department and District Attorney’s office.
This case flew under my radar so to speak because it happened before my ‘time’. I had nonetheless heard of the legendary Diane Downs; the cruel sociopath who had sacrificed her own children to be free to pursue a relationship with the man she loved. I must humbly admit that I had not questioned the facts of the case before readily accepting this image of Diane as a cold blooded killer. I know better now than to accept blindly the truth presented to us on a silver platter by the media and the judicial system.
Having recently done research on the Liysa Northon’s case which was the subject of a book written by Ann Rule titled Heart Full of Lies, I came across some very interesting information about the Diane Downs’ case because Rule attended the trial and also wrote a book about the case called Small Sacrifices.
In reality, the whole case turned out to be no small sacrifice for Diane Downs, but it was a huge victory for the State, the media and a very lucrative deal for the Queen of crime fiction herself; Ann Rule.
In her book Heart Full of Lies, Rule took so many liberties with the facts that Liysa Northon sued her. It opened a huge can of worms regarding the real identity of the heart full of lies in this case. Some 287 errors and falsehoods were documented by Liysa and verified by official sources. Rule sued the Seattle Weekly after they published the article titled ‘’Ann Rule’s Sloppy Storytelling,” but she lost and had to make restitution.
The popular TV movie “Small Sacrifices” was based on Ann Rule’s book and it painted a horrid picture of the mother accused of shooting her children on Old Mohawk Road. The role of Diane Downs was played by none other than Farrah Fawcett and her lover was played by Ryan O’Neal who had been Farrah’s love interest in real life. They brought out the big guns to unload on the public, their idea of the truth: Diane Downs was a horrible creature and a jilted lover who shot her three children in cold blood to be free to pursue a relationship with the man she was obsessed with.
My opposition to movies about true crime stories is unshakable. It should be illegal to use real names and facts from a criminal case while influencing the public to falsely believe that the whole content of the film is true. The Lifetime channel constantly makes movies based loosely on the truth; this approach is an effective weapon aimed at swaying public opinion about high-profile cases.
Ann Rule promotes her books as true crime stories so to this day, viewers believe that the book and the movie titled Small Sacrifices document the true story of the Diane Downs’ case; in fact, it is a mix bag of truth, falsehoods, interpretation and plain fiction.
Diane Frederickson was born August 7, 1955 in Phoenix, Arizona. Her parents Willadene and Wes were old school Baptist parents who raised her under strict guidelines without much warmth but complete devotion.
Diane was known for her love of all animals which she treated with great care, and for her independent and wild streak. She was extremely intelligent but her emotional IQ was no match and her desire for freedom, love and affection were dangerously dragging her down a path of self-destruction. In high school, she met handsome Steven Downs who saw her for the great beauty she had become. Growing up, Diane had felt like an outsider and kids had been cruel towards her because of her real or imagined ugly duckling looks and demeanor. She did not fit in and was now anxious to assert her independence and live her own life.
She learned at a young age to keep her emotions in check and to always present a strong and brave front. That is the way she was brought up, especially at the demand of her rigid but very dedicated father.
After graduation, Steven joined the Navy and Diane was sent to Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College where she failed miserably at remaining pure and chaste, not unlike most girls of her generation who rejected their strict religious upbringing. She was expelled and reunited with him against her parents’ wishes. They had high hopes for Diane’s future and this bad boy was not part of it.
Steven and Diane married on November 13, 1973. She was eighteen and soon realized that she had jumped from the fire into the frying pan. Her quest for love had landed her into an unstable and loveless marriage. Her husband turned out to be a player and a very irresponsible guy who did not really love her.
So Diane did what she thought would bring her the deepest satisfaction in life; she became a mother. She felt fulfilled when she was pregnant because she believed it was the road to unconditional love. Christie was born in October of 1974 and Cheryl Lynn in January of 1976.
This unhealthy marriage survived and became a daily struggle. Diane ran away from her husband many times between 1976 and 1977, but with nowhere to go except her parents’ house, she would come back. And Steven would hunt her down anyway and charm his way back into her life. It was the story of two troubled young souls trying to survive without a safety net. And the fact that this young mother was bipolar probably brought a lot of drama to the mix.
In 1979, headstrong Diane gave birth to Danny who was not Steven’s biological son because he had no desire to be a father again. As usual, Diane had resorted to the soothing comfort of a pregnancy to pretend life would get better; she would create a nest around her, come hell or high water. And Steven was free to follow her lead or not. Surprisingly, he accepted the new child and learned to love him dearly. But the birth of little Danny did not make this bad boy change his stripes; he remained a cad and a destabilizing force in their lives. And being the mother of three only served to propel Diane in a more manic state.
Diane found a full-time job with the U.S. Post Office in 1981, and was stationed in Chandler. She had been the bread winner for most of her marriage, and never wavered in her desire to bring financial stability to her family. She even became a surrogate mother to make money and provide two parents the opportunity to have a child. She entertained the idea of opening a surrogacy agency but the project never really took off. This was ridiculed countless times in the media, but frankly, it can be a very honorable endeavor, depending on how you want to look at it.
In Rule’s book, Diane is portrayed as a horrible selfish mother but her family and friends saw another version; she loved her children dearly and worked hard to be a good provider. She was the first to admit that at times, she was somewhat neglectful, impatient, yelled too much, and could have been a better mother, but she seemed to have turned the corner and was doing her best with the means at her disposal. By many accounts, her children adored her.
This reminds me of what a jail counselor named Rachel Roth said at the trial of Debra Milke ”It’s my opinion that this young woman has been judged in a way that signifies something to do with how we view women in our society. There have been behaviors that in the general course of events one may expect from a single parent that in a way have been falsely interpreted as being some form of evil.”
The men in her life were in no shape or form called on their irresponsible or wild behavior. The proverbial expression ‘It takes two to tango’ applies here. It was pretty apparent during the course of this saga that the media and the state were willing to give a free pass to anyone willing to badmouth Diane.
Diane, of her own admission, had plenty of affairs while she worked at the Post Office. And Robert Knickerbocker became one of her lovers. He actually was the one who suggested they become intimate after many friendly, platonic conversations. As a married man, the ball was in his court and he decided to go for it.
Diane found with him, the kind of relationship she had never known before: there was actually care and intimacy involved. Robert and Diane even decided to get matching rose tattoos, but as soon as the ink on her tattoo was dry, he refused to get his done. He separated from his wife and was going to follow Diane who, by now, had decided to move and work in Oregon to be closer to her parents. What followed was a tragedy subject to many interpretations.
The move to Oregon
If there is one thing Diane knew about her lover, is that he was fickle and did not like trouble of any kind. After asking her to have an affair, he kept vacillating between his wife and her. He strung her along, played with both women’s emotions, and after saying he would join her in Oregon, reneged and stayed with his wife. Moreover, he told her that he did not want her children or any children for that matter. This statement alone would seal Diane’s fate.
After six weeks in Oregon where the children were happily spending time with their grandparents while Diane worked her postal route, the incident happened on a dark road that led to Diane being accused of murder and attempted murder.
The shooting on Old Mohawk Road
On May 19, 1983, Diane and her kids visited a friend to look at her new horse, and then went for a drive; not at all unusual for this family not living according to middle class rules. As it was getting dark and the young ones fell asleep in the car, their mother decided to head home.
According to Diane, she then saw a man on the road flagging her and stopped thinking he needed help. He asked her for the car keys and she pretended to throw them away to distract him. When she resisted, he shot her kids and struggled with her. She managed to jump in the car after getting shot in the arm. This is a scenario pretty hard to believe, but as they say, reality can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
On her way to the hospital, she was followed by someone who said she was going slow, but Diane said she was driving fairly fast. Would you know at what speed you are going if you were shot and driving with wounded children in the car? I am not sure.
This same witness corroborated that Diane did not stop to do something suspicious or dispose of the gun. But if you compare the time she was seen by the witness to the timing of her arrival at the hospital, it seems to indicate she went pretty fast, but none of it was explained or demonstrated properly.
After arriving at the nearest hospital where the nursing staff and doctors attended to the children, the police were called in and her parents arrived promptly. Right away, the police asked her to go back to the crime scene even though she did not want to leave her children behind. Her father also insisted she try to help catch the shooter. She unwillingly followed the cops in spite of being in pain and not wanting to leave the premises.
In the nurse’s notes, she is described as in shock and unable to grasp the situation. Most people described Diane’s injury as minor or superficial but in reality, it was a very serious injury. Her arm was severely damaged, so shattered that she needed a graft from a hip bone. A steel plate had to be attached and some lead fragments were removed.
Her children were obviously more severely injured because being captive in the car while a shooter aimed at them gave them less of a chance to wiggle out of the situation than an adult outside the car.
Diane’s injury had to be quite painful and she was in shock while driving to the hospital and accompanying the detectives to the crime scene. So how she behaved at the time, should not have been a factor influencing the authorities. But her behavior became the most important factor in the investigation that followed.
The detectives took Diane to the crime scene and were able to retrieve shell cases on the ground where the incident happened. But strangely, they took no photos of the crime scene and did not lift fingerprints from the driver’s side of the car.
Diane’s automobile was secured and examined and no gun was found. She also underwent a gun residue test that same evening that revealed no trace of gun powder on her hands. She had no blood spatter or gun powder residue on her hands, clothing or hair. Meaning it was unlikely she was the shooter.
In her book, Ann Rule made sure to mention that running water was heard by a dispatcher when Diane was at the hospital; insinuating that she was washing her hands and getting rid of evidence. A fact strongly denied by Diane and by the nurses’ reports.
It takes a good scrubbing with soap and water to get rid of gun powder residues and doing so with only one arm would be quite difficult. Plus, Diane could have never cleaned her clothes and her hair to remove blood and gun powder. Let’s not forget that she was presumed to have fired a gun 6 times at close range within the confines of a small car. And if you add the fact that they never found the gun, it doesn’t leave much evidence to back up the theory that she was the shooter.
‘’Gunpowder is one of the toughest stains around, when it comes to removing it from clothes. Washing soda is your best bet: It includes, among its ingredients, the exceedingly corrosive carbolic acid. If you use this mixed water, you can lift off a gunpowder stain.’’
Actor Robert Blake was found not guilty of the shooting murder of his wife. One of the important pieces of evidence was the absence of all but a trace of gunshot residue.
Click to listen to podcast explaining the gun test, Diane’s mental condition and the lack of forensic evidence.
The bushy haired stranger
Diane described the stranger that shot them on the road and a police artist came up with a sketch. DA Pat Horton declared early in the game to the local paper that ‘the search for the bearded stranger was not very high on their priority list.’’ To the authorities, it was a ridiculous notion that they would not entertain so they did not follow on numerous leads coming from people who had seen someone corresponding to that description.
They already had made up their mind that Diane was the perpetrator so they laughed off the idea of the ‘bushy haired stranger.’ The problem was that they could not find the gun anywhere and they had nothing on Diane.
Teams of people and detectives combed the area for months looking for the gun but it was nowhere to be found. Even prosecutor Fred Hugi was seen walking the grounds to try to find the weapon. They were in a difficult situation because without evidence, they could not charge her for the crime.
Yet in their mind, she was already guilty. Sheriff’s Deputy Roy Pond admitted in court that he had already concluded that Diane was guilty and stopped following leads on the orders of his sergeant three weeks after the shooting.
Almost from day one, Diane was perceived as a ‘cancer’ they had to remove. They did not like her attitude and she did not behave the way they expected a grieving mother to act. So it was a relentless game to try to reel her in.
She was fighting back and they did not like it. So they did everything in their power to slant the media and the public in their favor.
This case had many similarities to the Alice Crimmins’story. An attractive woman whose two children were killed in mysterious circumstances and the cops decided to go after her. They hated her attitude and thought she was promiscuous and showed no sorrow or remorse.
Instead of grieving, Alice went partying and had sex. They finally charged her and she did 10 years for the death of her children. To this day, there is not enough evidence to prove her guilt or innocence for that matter.
Not unlike Diane, Alice did not want to share her pain in public. They both fainted when they saw their dead child, but it did not count. The authorities wanted to see them mourn and fall apart.
These women did not show emotions and did not fold when asked to. And these men in black perceived this as an act of war, and proceeded to go after them with every legal or illegal means at their disposal.
You can click here to read about the case of Alice Crimmins during which the lead detective was heard telling the other cops before the bodies of the children were ever found: ”You take the husband, I’ll take the bitch.”
The best policy for Diane Downs would have been to remain silent, but she fought back and smiled at the wrong time and according to them, enjoyed the attention. It did not matter that they had no evidence; they did not like her attitude and she was going to pay for it.
The two mental disorders that cause excessive talking are Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. If Diane was bipolar, the non-stop chatter would have been inherent to the situation. And the flat affect and sometimes inappropriate smiling would come with the territory so you cannot judge her actions without taking into account that she might not have been acting according to the norms. It had nothing to do with the evidence of the case and represents useless labeling anyway.
When I hear some people say that they would have liked to smack that smirk off Diane’s face when she interacted with the cops or the media, I say read this to understand accounts of people laughing at the wrong time and how it is related to their personality disorder. Lack of impulse control is also another symptom that might explain why a mother would stop at night to help a stranger flagging her on the road.
Diane changed her story about the ‘stranger’ on the road. In one of them, he knew her name and in another one, she had answered a call and been told to meet someone. It should have raised a red flag concerning her mental stability or the possibility that more people were involved.
The inconsistencies and obvious lack of evidence in this case should have called for a wider investigation instead of solely focusing on their prime suspect.
Right after the shooting, little Danny would ask the nurses, ‘Why did the mean man shoot me?’ and it would be written down in the daily notes. Christie could not speak but after some rehab, she said repeatedly that she did not know who shot them.
The powers that be knew they had nothing on Diane so Christie became their sacrificial lamb. But to convince this young and vulnerable girl to turn on her mother, they needed to isolate her from her family and work relentlessly on her ‘confession.’
Even Ann Rule in her book, keeps mentioning that they only had a few months to get Christie to talk, otherwise they could not keep her away from her mother any longer.
Three weeks after the crime, Judge Foote from family courts, removed Danny and Christie from the care of Diane Downs and her family. Even if the nurses’ notes indicated countless times that the children asked for their mother and enjoyed her visits, they cut them off from the only family they knew and loved; supposedly for their own protection.
The notes taken daily by the nurses became a point of contention at trial. It seems that a lot of what was written down never came up during testimony and some nurses even strayed from the original content.
The scene described in Small Sacrifices with little Christie hooked up to a machine and her pulse accelerates because she is terrified of her mother is doubtful and subject to interpretation. It was written repeatedly in the daily notes that the children were happy to see their mom and asked for her. In fact, what investigator Tracy had written in his notes is that the heart monitor jumped because of ‘excitement’ or ‘intense fear’.
There were days she was unhappy to see the staff and her family because she was very ill. That poor girl had a lot of bad moments where she would cry constantly or trigger the machines and to have defined this single incident as one of terror instead of excitement over seeing her mom was biased and self-serving. All smoke and mirrors to fit a certain scenario.
In fact, Diane and her lawyer wanted Christie to be able to heal before being questioned and to be accompanied and taped during the sessions. A very reasonable request that was rejected. It became judicial kidnapping to obtain a coerced confession. What about the terror of being interrogated by strangers and separated from her family? We did not hear about her pulse racing when that happened.
Christie was only eight, had suffered gunshot wounds and was in shock. She had a stroke and was treated with mood altering Dilantin before and after testifying. She had been isolated from her whole family and being unethically interrogated. It was not unlike brainwashing.
Every time, she said she did not know, they told her to think again and made suggestions. And the interrogations were not taped and barely documented. To have separated Christie from her brother and the rest of the family to be able to get her mom was unconscionable. They are the ones who considered Diane’s children as Small Sacrifices.
The unreliability of children’s testimony has been documented by cognitive psychologists such as Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Cornell and others.
The harm done to families by unscrupulous district attorneys who bully children into falsely testifying against their parents has been recorded in a documentary called “Witch Hunt” by Sean Penn about Kern County (CA) District Attorney Ed Jagels. There is no way that a jury would convict Diane today, based on the clearly coached testimony of Christie.
It took months to get Christie to say that her mother was the culprit and that is when they arrested Diane. Everything was in the bag and ready for trial.
The fact that she and her brother Danny were eventually adopted by Fred Hugi who prosecuted Diane Downs is the most blatant case of conflict of interest I have ever heard of.
Even if I have no doubt that Hugi loved the kids, we have to wonder why he adopted them two years later just when little Christie started saying she had no clue who shot them. Considering the circumstances, it is difficult not to be a bit cynical about this grand gesture.
One should also wonder why their biological father who was so eager to bash his ex on the stand was not given custody, and did not stay in contact with his two remaining children. Or why the fact that he was a con artist made him such a credible guy in this case. Instead, it is Diane who fought to keep her children. If the goal was to get rid of them, whey didn’t she emulate her lesser half in this matter?
From the very beginning, the DA’s office had their ducks in a row because in an unprecedented move, Judge Gregory Foote who had denied access to the children by all blood relatives and given their care over to the State, was promoted from ‘juvenile’ to ‘senior’ judge to preside over the trial of Diane Downs.
It was Judge Foote’s first criminal case and it was against a woman whose children he had removed from her care even though she had not been convicted or sentenced; a conflict of interest and pure madness. They had him in their pocket and with the testimony of little Christie they were in business.
Diane’s father had hired an ex-Prosecutor to defend his daughter and his name was James C. Jagger. It turned out to be a mistake because he was married to a County Circuit Court Judge who would become a colleague of Foote and he had no intention of defending Diane vigorously. You wondered at times, which side he was working for.
Mr. Downs must have had a bad feeling about Jagger because before trial, he tried to retain defense attorney Melvin Belli who had the reputation of fighting for his clients and to win all his cases. Belli filed a motion for a 3-week extension to familiarize himself with the case and declared Diane innocent in a press conference, but Foote denied the motion and declared ‘’you have an attorney, use him.”
Foote ruled in favor of the prosecution and against the defense on most of the admissible evidence questions including all the nurse’s notes about Danny talking about a man shooting him but admitted Christie’s reports about her mother shooting her.
Diane’s brother, James, sat in court one day and noticed Foote looking at Hugi before ruling on an objection. The prosecutor would gently shake his head and the good judge would follow with a ruling. As a result, he decided not to attend the rest of the trial.
We could say that it was suggestive on his part, but considering how this trial was conducted, I tend to believe it happened.
Foote refused 30 to 50 reports by detectives of sightings or leads about the shooter but admitted reports from people in Arizona willing to badmouth Diane. It appeared rigged and the fact that Ann Rule sat in the courtroom ready to produce a Masterpiece of Guilt could only help the prosecution.
According to the State, ballistics evidence proved that Diane Downs was guilty. They claimed to have found two lead cartridges in Diane’s rifle at home that supposedly matched the ones used during the crime. But there were discrepancies; the tool marks did not match and the detective lied on the stand about it.
Click here to read about faulty ballistics.
During closing arguments, Fred Hugi said that the murder weapon used by Diane was a Ruger, and the state had the model number and the bill of sale. That same gun turned up at a police raid years later in Perris, California, and it did not match the ballistics from the shooting site.
Ruger #14-76187; described as the gun used by Diane and belonging to Steve Downs, was not the murder weapon. They came up with an explanation as to why this was the wrong gun but the jig was up.
Steve Downs had allegedly stolen this gun from a friend named Billy Proctor, but after it was found and the ballistics did not match, Bill suddenly remembered keeping it only for a day before exchanging it for another Ruger automatic at a gun show in Mesa; which now meant that the gun that Diane allegedly used to shoot herself and the children, was still apparently nowhere to be found.
Considering that the marks on the lethal bullets did not fit the bullet fingerprinting found in the rifle, this gun switcheroo was a good save for the state, but did not support the theory presented at trial either.
The very suspicious aspect of this ballistic saga is that Hugi said they had the bill of sale and serial number for the first Ruger and it was definitely the murder weapon. If, as Proctor said, it was exchanged right away, and the other Ruger was subsequently stolen by Steven, how was it remotely possible for him to have this info? Are we to believe that Proctor’s second gun was stolen with the bill and ID from the first gun that remained listed at the gun store?
A demonstration in court strongly suggested that the shooter had to be left-handed to have been able to shoot in the car at the right angle. Diane was right-handed.
Fingerprints at the crime scene were not produced by the State.
Police witness reports of strangers and confessions were suppressed or not pursued.
Years later, seven witnesses signed affidavits telling of a man named Jim Haynes’ continuing confession that he was the shooter, and his appearance bore similarities to the sketch.
It deserved as much attention as a Unicorn, a song or all the other hearsay floating around because at least, they came from real people signing official documents. View the affidavits.
Diane’s Mental State
During Diane’s interrogation, Fred Hugi said in front of the jury, in the form of a question, that she had been diagnosed as a ‘deviant sociopath.’
In fact, Diane had consulted a psychologist after the tragedy and after months of consultation, she was never diagnosed as a sociopath. The definition of ‘deviant sociopath’ does not even exist in the DSM-HI, which is the official psychiatric diagnostic manual. She did diagnose her as suffering from cyclothymic disorder and treated her accordingly. She signed an affidavit to that effect and wanted the jury informed of it but it was never done.
As soon as Diane was found guilty, Hugi demanded that Diane be evaluated by a psychiatrist before sentencing so they could declare her a dangerous offender and give her a stiffer sentence.
Strangely enough, a woman who was seen for 8 months by a psychologist and declared to be in shock and suffering from a mood disorder, would now be assessed by the ‘State hired psychiatrist’ to confirm the label Hugi conveniently made up during trial. And Hugi seemed pretty sure he would get what he was asking for.
So when Dr. George Suckow from the Oregon State Hospital in Salem was called as a State’s rebuttal witness and he made a professional diagnosis of Diane as histrionics, antisocial and narcissistic, he openly said in court that he interviewed Diane for 1 hour and read evidence presented by the state to make his diagnosis.
It gave Anne Rule carte blanche to legally use these labels in her book and it stuck. Diane now had the title of dangerous offender. Mission accomplished.
The unicorn and Hungry like the Wolf
Anne Rule made a big deal of a brass unicorn engraved with the children’s names that Diane had purchased. It was omnipresent in the courtroom as well as the Duran Duran song Hungry like the Wolf that supposedly was playing when the children were shot in the car.
According to Rule and the court, the unicorn was a memorial to her children that she purchased after premeditating their murder. It was far fetched, unfounded and conveniently relayed by Rule to boost the sales of her book.
There is absolutely no evidence that Hungry like the Wolf was playing when Christie got shot but it is another detail they added to bring a dramatic element to this trial. They played the tape in the courtroom, and the fact that Diane did not break down but tapped her foot to the music, was supposed to be another proof of her guilt. Only in Hollywood and in Ann Rule’s books, would you find such fantasy.
In fact, if someone was Hungry like the Wolf in this courtroom, it was a certain crime author who could already smell and taste the fortune coming her way after the publication of this juicy story.
Fred Hugi was pretty upset when Ann Rule went Hollywood with his case. I guess he did not want too many people to know about the improprieties that happened in his courtroom. But he overestimated the kind of people that would go along with this soap opera. They were not truth seekers and enjoyed a nice burning at the stake instead.
Rule defended her right ‘to earn a living’ and to tell her story. Too bad she did not interview Diane or her family. She talked to Diane for 15 minutes, there was the bizarre and partial Oprah interview that was basically a ‘let’s bash Diane’ event and she wrote to Diane in jail to ask her what she thought of Hugi adopting her children. That was the extent of her ‘investigation’ of Diane’s side.
When Diane’s youngest daughter, who was adopted after being taken away by the state, found out who her real mother was and decided to reach out to her, the media and Rule grabbed hold of her to promote their agenda. How could they expect a ‘normal’ mother/daughter reunion between a beaten inmate whose mental health had degraded and a daughter trapped in this insanity?
Rule even talked about writing a book about her but it never materialized. It probably was not salacious enough for her readers that she polled online to establish if there was enough interest in the story to fill her pockets with a definite blockbuster.
They should have stayed out of it instead of contributing to her revictimization.
The foreseeable verdict
Diane was cooked the minute she walked in that courtroom. Evidence or not, they were going to do their best to put her away for life. And their plan worked. The poor jury went along and Jagger did not put much of a defense anyway.
Considering the lack of evidence, it seems that she was condemned mostly because of her inappropriate statements and behavior. Christie became the star witness against her mother and who could resist such a touching testimony?
Her lover and former husband testified against her but it did not represent evidence but character assassination. And it is not like these two were white as snow.
There was never a real motive for the crime even if the State insisted that Diane wanted to be free to pursue her love interest; using her journals to support their claim. If personal diaries were to be believed, half of the population would be in great jeopardy. Diane was jealous of the other woman, but Robert Knickerbocker’s wife said that she found her rather friendly during their encounter. Nuts maybe, but not threatening.
The fact that she took the kids to the nearest hospital, and two of them survived kind of flies in the face of their murder at all costs theory. I guess Diane forgot to have that part engraved on the Unicorn.
She knew that Knickerbocker hated trouble of any kind, and that he would have never come back to her after an ugly shooting where she had been wounded and her kids damaged. Diane was pregnant during the trial so if found not guilty, how would she have regained the love of her life? Their theory was very shaky.
I do not care if the bushy haired stranger made no sense or if they could not explain the why of the tragedy, I do not care if she was madly in love with a guy because all that counts is proof and evidence in a court of law, and there was definitely a reasonable doubt. Without the media blast and rush to judgment from the police and DA’s office, we might have uncovered the truth. The circumstances surrounding the case were not enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury verdict was guilty on all counts, but there was a mixture of votes. On the single count of murder, the jurors needed a unanimous decision. Two jurors had voted that Diane was not guilty of attempted murder or first-degree assault, but ended up voting to convict her of murder. What was the rationale behind this?
The judge instructed them to continue on to force a verdict. I personally disagree with that practice but it is common. One of the jurors finally declared ”we started as a group and finished as a group.”
He also said ”we don’t want to put pressure on the group, we don’t want to end up bickering. We’ve become friends. I go fishing with a juror’s husband. I have plans to go hunting with the husband of one of the alternates.”
They brought cakes and cookies and became friends so they were not going to fight over this. The hell with doubts, ballistics and pesky details about the shooting, we cannot disagree because there is hunting and fishing to do and friendships to uphold. Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya.
But in their defense, they were told at trial that it was Diane’s gun that was used to shoot the kids and it must have been very difficult to overcome the emotions brought on by the words of little Christie even if it was pretty obvious during her testimony that she was confused and unreliable; during cross-examination, she said that she witnessed the murders while sitting up and that Cheryl was sitting up on the front seat when she got shot.
Diane said that Cheryl was laying down on the front floorboard with the passenger seat pushed back. Cheryl was shot twice in the back and one of the bullets ended up on the floorboard. She could not have been shot twice in the back while sitting up and have the bullet pierce her body to end up under the floorboard of the passenger side.
There was no blood on the front seats so Cheryl was laying down and Christie was asleep laying down and never witnessed anything. She was also shot twice and if she had been sitting up, the seats would have been covered with blood spatter as well as the shooter. Instead, there is blood splatter on the ceiling of the car.
Criminalist James Pex was pretty clear about this. The way Christie was coached did not correspond to the reality of the direct evidence.
Years later, Christie was heard saying by classmates that she did not know who shot her. There is also a recording where she says that she had no idea who shot them. The tape is real and probably not admissible, but it proves that her testimony was coerced. Caught in the act, Hugi declared that Christie only said that because she was pressed for an answer. How ironic. Of course, because this is what she does when people put her on the spot and ask questions concerning her mother and the shooting. After all, she was conditioned this way.
To read about Christie’s conversation with Dena Reinhardt, click here. To listen to Christie’s taped conversation, click below.
Diane was found guilty and sentenced to life and she has been in prison ever since. She was in solitary confinement for years and even escaped from prison once but was recaptured.
In 1999, a Board Certified Psychiatrist practicing in Oakland, California wrote a letter to the parole board on behalf of Diane Downs to explain how things had changed since 1984 when she was diagnosed with a ‘severe personality disorder.’ He did not consider her a risk factor at all and believed she would do well if released into society, because she had no prior history of violence and never had a problem with violence or bad behavior while incarcerated.
In 2008, a psych evaluation by L. Williams, Ph.D., Chief of Mental Health at Valley State Prison for Women, explained Diane’s lack of emotions and its relationship to her case.
Ms. Downs makes every effort to avoid emotional stimuli in order to reduce the demands made on her. She functions best in highly structured environments where she has a sense of control. She may be highly vulnerable to losing control of her emotions in emotionally charged situations, creating faulty judgment and ineffective and inappropriate behavior.
“She keeps her emotions under tight control, presenting only socially acceptable feelings and burying other contradictory feelings.”
As far as her innocence goes and the possibility of being paroled if she admitted her crime, Diane strongly maintains her innocence. She states, “I did not shoot my children and I can’t say I did. It would not benefit you, my children, or society for me to perpetuate that lie. If I was of a mind to manipulate the Board by giving voice to the words they want me to utter, I’d have sold my soul two decades ago when the lies would have benefited me and my youth passed long ago. It’s too late for me to call myself a murderer (when I am not) just to purchase my freedom. I did not shoot my children.“
She goes on to say that she has deep regret and mourns the loss and death of her children.
If it was not such a high profile case, Diane Downs would have been paroled a long time ago, considering her good behavior and lack of priors. The Parole Board had an obligation to parole Diane between 1998 and 2002 if she could provide reasonable cause to show she was not a danger to society.
According to Oregon law, this would have to be supported by a psychiatrist’s report or a Wardens’ letter and Diane provided both. But the Parole Board refused to hear her. She followed all the correct Parole Board procedures for two years with no hearing. She then went through the State (Circuit) Court habeas corpus relief for four years to no avail. She is nowhere near being paroled and if she admitted guilt, I am not even convinced they would release her. Her case was too public and they are afraid of public backlash.
I do not know what happened on Old Mohawk Road on that dark evening, but I know that they did not have enough evidence to try and convict Diane Downs. They should have taken their time to investigate this case thoroughly and without prejudice.
Diane Downs and Alice Crummins were considered sluts and cold-blooded women and were judged on their unusual character. The lousy men in their lives never took a hit because after all, it was these witches’ fault.
It became more about despising Diane Downs than investigating fairly. I understand that the authorities were afraid to leave the two remaining children under her care if they thought she was guilty, but they could have been released to the grandparents or other blood relatives with supervised visits from their mom considering that she was not charged with any crime. They were traumatized and needed familiar faces to feel safe.
The most frequent remarks I hear about the case when confronted by the state misconduct and the lack of evidence are gut feelings ”I don’t buy it” ”She’s guilty” ”She did it” ”I know she did it” ”Her story makes no sense” ”She’s evil” ”She’s crazy.” ”It had to be her.”
So the hell with no gun, no GSR, no blood and no witnesses except a sick child who denied knowing who shot them until she could not anymore and happened to be adopted by the prosecutor; making it look like she could never change her mind and reveal that she has no memory of the shooting and maybe have the case reversed. ”She’s guilty”.
The State had the same gut feeling and made sure she would pay. Guilty or not, we should know better than to use the justice system as a psychic tool when there’s not enough evidence. What’s next? Substituting reasonable inference and evidence for tarot cards? She had the right to a fair trial as much as anyone else out there.
It appears that you have to be a perfect mother with no lovers and not afflicted with any mental illness to be considered innocent until proven guilty in America.
The lovely Farrah Fawcett who played in the movie Small Sacrifices was known for her epic battles with lover Ryan O’Neil. Her son ended up in jail and O’Neil’s children accused him of neglect and bad parenting.
Farrah had trouble with the law because of a passionate love affair with a movie director. So if we started judging people harshly for their flaws, it would never end.
A trial should be based on facts and solid direct or circumstantial evidence. Some would say that Diane Downs was condemned because of her lies and inconsistencies, but I think that it was mostly because of her disturbing demeanor and brash personality.
She has done her time in prison and I hope that she gets the chance to get out and spend time with her aging parents and siblings who have been fighting relentlessly for her release.
Anne Rule might have inflamed the case with her book Small Sacrifices and her theory of the crime, but in reality, the case of Diane Downs was no small sacrifice. The price of celebrity for her was losing her freedom and her children for life. It does not get any bigger than this.