Downs' father offers $50K for help in her release

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by By kgw.com and AP Staff

kgw.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 3:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 9 at 2:33 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) -- The father of an Oregon woman convicted of shooting her three children 25 years ago and killing one of them is offering $50,000 for information leading to his daughter's release.

Wesley Frederickson operates a Web page devoted to proving his daughter, Diane Downs, is innocent. He posted a notice offering the $50,000 reward Wednesday.

The 53-year-old Downs has maintained her innocence, most recently at her first parole hearing last December. But she was denied parole after she gave rambling testimony with wild new claims about the shootings in 1983.

Downs is serving a life term plus 50 years. Her father says that if anybody does come forward with credible information, the money will not be awarded until Downs is released.

KGW report on Diane Downs' parole

Downs also spoke with emotion at her last parole hearing, as she described her father's bitterness that her surviving children have been raised by the chief prosecutor who convicted her.

The parole board adjourned at 11:15 a.m. to deliberate, and returned half an hour later, announcing their conclusion that Downs continued to suffer from an "emotional or mental" disorder that made her a danger to society. The board said it would reconsider her case again on March 9, 2011.

During the hearing, Downs was only allowed to respond to questions from the parole board. She continued to insist she did not shoot her children.

"That is accurate," she told the board via closed-circuit TV. "That has always been the case, and that will always be the truth."

Downs added that she had "no idea why anyone would do that."

Case made national news

Back in 1983, child murders were almost unheard of, and Diane Downs' case drew national attention, in part due to her almost charismatic demeanor in the days and weeks that followed the shooting.

Her case was eventually re-told in a book by Ann Rule book and in a TV movie, where Farrah Fawcett played Downs.

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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!"

Prosecutors said Downs shot her children because she hoped to free herself to rekindle a romance with a married Arizona man.

Key testimony came from Downs' 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.

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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 Douglass 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 escapes prison

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."

Parole Hearing Tuesday

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 Tuesday 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.

Anticipating a crowd of reporters and others, the parole board has moved its hearing to a community college studio.

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.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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