aug-17-2012 13:39

Diane Downs: Child Killer or Victim of Injustice?

Tim King

Incarcerated for nearly 30 years, Downs maintains her innocence and a look at the case explains why.

Diane Downs then and now
Diane Downs then and now

(SALEM) – Here’s the first question: what kind of person would set out to Murder their own children, deny the crime, and then choose to spend the rest of their natural life in prison rather than simply admitting they did it and being released?

The second question is, what has happened in Oregon’s courts to make facts become less than what they are? Jurisprudence is at the root of justice and the United States is a nation that treasures this concept, but I seriously question whether it is alive and well in this northwest state.

Let’s get this out of the way; I am a journalist who has explored several convictions in the state of Oregon that I believe are false. One is Frank Gable; the man convicted in the Murder of former Oregon Corrections Chief Michael Francke, and another is a young African-American man from Eugene, Oregon, Darryl Sky Walker, who was convicted for killing a fellow university student; a Portland judge’s son, even though another suspect bragged over throwing the fatal blow. Another is the man serving 19 years for Sex Abuse in a case that DNA proves impossible, his name is Terrence Kimble. Another is the former prison guard, William Coleman, who faced 40 years on false charges at one point, but was found not guilty of Oregon’s charges by a unanimous jury verdict. His real ‘crime’ was blowing the whistle on racist hate crimes while employed at the state prison.


Faces of some of the people Tim has written about; they are all recipients of injustice in Oregon.

I would like to make it clear to those reading this that I indulge many subjects as a writer and if there is one common theme, it is Human Rights. Much of my work centers around war crimes in far flung places like Sri Lanka and Crimes against Humanity in Burma and Balochistan and Palestine. I’ve worked as a photographer and reporter in Iraq, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. My only personal ‘beef’ is with injustice and the impact it has on people, including those who have been flagrantly and sensationally exploited and wrongly convicted, people like the famous, albeit notorious, Diane Downs.



I know many things swirl around in the minds of those old enough to remember the case; you remember the name ‘Diane Downs’ and her conviction, perhaps you saw a movie about her starring the late Farah Fawcett titled ‘Small Sacrifices’ based on the book by Ann Rule, a highly dedicated writer with a lot of credibility and books to her credit. In spite of her incredible history, it is important to remember that Ann Rule is a former police officer and she has covered amazing, successful investigations of serial killers. I have read many of her books and I have met Ann and know her daughter Leslie. I think Ann Rule is a fantastic author; in fact one of the best, but I do not think ‘Small Sacrifices’ is a fair or just story, I think Ann was given information that caused the outcome to be what the police wanted it to be. When writers choose to convict people they become more powerful than the courts themselves.

Take for example, the book ‘Fatal Vision‘ by Joe McGinniss; about the murder of the wife and children of former U.S. Army Green Beret Captain Jeffrey MacDonald. Evidence in that case, just like the Downs case, was buried by the prosecution at the time of the trial, which is scandalous and outlandish, yet neither of the defendants in these cases found relief when this critical legal blunder was later exposed.

That is a crying shame and there is no excuse in the world for it. I believe Oregon needs to have a higher authority examine the history if injustice in this state and the U.S. legal system needs to stick to established determiners, and not let the emotions and personal biases of judges be the order of the day.

I have been evaluating the Diane Downs case for the last several weeks and communicating with her family members who remain extremely concerned and troubled over her three decades of incarceration.


The evidence says she could not have committed the crime, but yet she was convicted. The judge in the case was clear in his determination to get a conviction. There are many statements from witnesses under oath, claiming that a man named Jim Haynes admitted having shot Diane Downs and her children. These individuals range from Haynes’ former wife, to women he dated and personal friends and acquaintances. It is truly shocking.

Diane Downs is clearly a woman who has both commanded and demanded attention from other people in her lifetime. Her conviction seemed to have a lot to do with her lack of remorse, or the perception of it.

In the investigation following the shootings, she was asked to perform a reenactment of the crime. Anyone who searches for videos about Diane Downs, will inevitably locate these clips. The fact that she was lighthearted was her biggest mistake, and if that is indeed the case, then we can conclude that Oregon courts would always convict people who hide emotions rather than showing them at the precise time. I don’t find that comforting.


I also wonder why we aren’t provided clips of all investigative footage in all cases. It lends weight to the theory that these clips were released to a TV station that I used to work for, KATU in Portland, Oregon, specificlly to help the state convict Diane Downs.

Perhaps it is all about the showmanship, it seems courts expect it. Meeting the expectations of society as defined by the state’s legal system, is what Downs failed to do when she didn’t bawl her eyes out while performing a reenactment. I suggest that she was still in shock.

But the news reporters love to expand on her lack of critical emotion, they play into the hand of the prosecutor in a way that could be called almost perfect. Media was clearly used to convict Diane Downs.

Emotionally Speaking


 From ‘Restrepo

So are all people who fail to show the expected amount of emotion; specifically smiling at the wrong time while discussing crimes that robbed the lives of people they loved, actually guilty?

A 2008 psych evaluation of Ms. Downs authored by L. Williams, Ph.D., Chief of Mental Health at Valley State Prison for Women, confirms many of my suspicions about this lack of emotion and its relationship to her case.

There is no question that Ms. Downs handles emotion very differently from the expected norm; I find a striking similarity in another traumatized person; a soldier who gives testimony in the popular film Restrepo *, who smiles unexpectedly.

In recalling the losses of his friends, this young soldier who experienced so much during his tour of duty in Afghanistan, smiles and seemingly grins as he shares his experiences. He smiles while revealing truly painful details of how his buddies’ lives were ripped away. Does this smile mean he enjoyed the thoughts and memories? Could it reveal that he is not actually bothered by these losses? Isn’t it rude; even shameful as an American in particular, to even consider it? Based on the criteria used in the Downs case, Oregon courts would have to say yes. It seems illogical.

In the recent psychological evaluation from the California Penal System, this same character trait inevitably is discussed, 25 years later:

    “She keeps her emotions under tight control, presenting only socially acceptable feelings and burying other contradictory feelings.”



Regardless of how she presents her case, the only possible answer for Diane Downs at this point demands throwing her hands up in the air and saying, “I did it” and no other answer is going to initiate the process of her possible release. I suppose assumptions are part of this psychological process, however non-scientific they may seem, but defining a persistent plea of innocence as “contradictory feelings” creates a hopeless scenario. It seems the only path for Ms. Downs involves the public exposure of the large number of inconsistencies in the state of Oregon’s case against her. I would not engage if the evidence were not so overwhelming as it is. I told her father and her brother that I will help to expose the glaring facts that other journalists have chosen to leave buried.

My observation is that Ms. Downs is a person who has a unique level of control over what she does or does not display to others. In her case it led to a Murder conviction.

Again from L. Williams, Ph.D.:

    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 judgement and ineffective and inappropriate behavior.


Dr. Williams claims that Downs did not progress very much in the first 25 years of her incarceration. Downs counters, stating that survival in the penal system has been difficult.

The evaluation states:

    “While surviving prison without engaging in violence with other inmates is an accomplishment, it’s not necessarily a reflection of personal growth.”


It seems a large accomplishment to take lightly; I do not suspect that other prisoners are typically kind to convicted child killers. I believe Downs’ ability to avoid violence speaks volumes about her character. What the author of the psych eval is really saying, is Diane Downs still won’t admit she shot her three children and turned the gun on herself and there seems to be nothing else to it. Of course this Doctor does not have a magic wand to declare her innocence, but it seems her position itself deserved more attention.

The author also takes the time to reference Diane’s gunshot wound at the time as ‘superficial’ when I have never met a gunshot victim who viewed their wound in that manner. I believe the evaluator is greatly underestimating what life has been like for Diane Downs.

Nuts and Bolts


There are enough holes in the ‘official story’ of the Diane Downs case to sink a battleship. This first article will not even begin to evaluate them, however I will give you an idea of what is to come.

  • The trajectory of the bullets fired at the children, and the blood splatter, or lack thereof, based on forensic testimony, only corroborates Downs’ statements, not the state’s.  
  • It was widely accepted that it was her nine-year old daughter’s testimony that convicted her, but was she an eyewitness or was she asleep when the shooting happened? The forensic analysis is astonishing. A few years later, the same girl questions what she recalls.  
  • After the shootings, the wounded mother of three, Diane Downs, drove directly to a hospital emergency room with her injured children. Considered an intellectual, can we believe she never heard the term, ‘Dead men tell no tales’?  
  • Diane was convicted of shooting her three children with a 22 Caliber handgun. The state, in an effort to prove she had committed the crime, tested to see if she had held or fired a gun. A series of trace metal tests were conducted by Lane County deputies on the night of the shooting. The tests would prove if a person held a gun or even touched anything metallic. All came back negative, meaning Diane did not hold the murder weapon.  
  • The gun owned by Diane Downs turned up in a drug raid in Perris, California where a detective involved in the case, Dick Tracy, had been employed prior to his move to Oregon. The gun did not match the ballistics from the shooting site. Ruger #14-76187; Diane’s gun, was not the murder weapon  
  • There was never a motive. Prosecutors alleged Ms. Downs shot her kids for the sake of a relationship with a man, but her family says this was not the case. Downs had recently left a relationship, and moved to Oregon from Arizona to move away from that unhealthy relationship.  
  • Multiple parties confirmed in affidavits under oath that a man named Jim Haynes admitted having shot Diane Downs and her children. They range from Haynes’ ex-wife and former mother-in-law, to his long-term friends.  
  • A series of trace metal tests were conducted by Lane County deputies on the night of the shooting. The tests determine if a person held a gun or even touched anything metallic. All came back negative, meaning Diane did not hold the murder weapon.  
  • The upper torso of the shooter would be covered with blood splatter and gun residue. Ms. Downs had no blood splatter or gun shot residue (GSR) according to extensive forensic testing conducted by the Oregon State Police Crime Detection Laboratory.

This is also from the psych evaluation from 2008:


      Ms. Downs vehemently maintains her innocence. This fact is best stated in her own words. She states, “I did


      shoot my children and I


      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


    shoot my children.” Ms. Downs was asked to answer the following question.

And for those who truly question whether or not Diane Downs has remorse for what happened, the following paragraph from the psych eval seems to coherently address what it is that she most regrets:

      She goes on to say that she has deep regret and mourns the loss and death of her children’ She states further, “I do regret responding to that phone call May 19, 1983, that lured me and my children to Old Mohawk Road. Would that I could turn back the hands of time and know then what I know now, but I can’t.”


  1. Diane Downs in EXHIBIT O, Administrative Review Request Form, Jan. 21, 09, shows a clear understanding of the purposes of the Board:
    – “There is no substantial evidence to support a finding of DANGEROUSNESS because Dr. Williams (Board-appointed psychiatrist) DETERMINED the above-named (Downs) was not a danger to herself or to society.”
    – “The Board action is inconsistent with its rules or policies and the inconsistency was not adequately explained in that ORS 1444 228 and OAR 255-38-005 rely ONLY on the PSYCH EVALUATION to determine DANGEROUSNESS. Mr. Powers said in his opinion, the Board had the authority to override the Psych. Eval. and retain the prisoner. This is incorrect. The law says the Board SHALL RELEASE the prisoner when the psych. determines the prisoner to be not dangerous.”
    – “The Board action is in violation of statutes and/or constitutions because all prisoners under ORS 161.725 shall be heard by the full 5-Members Panel. Only 3 Parole Board Members heard Downs on 12/9/08.”

    The Board hearing was conducted by video transmission and not in direct contact like Dr. Williams’ Evaluation.

    1. Thank You, Your comment is very appreciated!
      Perhaps some people didn´t remark that we are living
      in a time where all things seems to be built by glass –
      by those glass we could see facts and dark secrets –
      hidden in past times!

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