Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Diane Downs: Her Children Got in the Way of Her Love

Loose Threads

In June, Assistant DA Fred Hugi met with his investigative squad to review its findings. Whether or not to arrest Diane Downs was the issue unsettled. He wanted to see her taken in, but not at the expense of the county office, which would take extreme heat were the case thrown out in pre-trial. Nevertheless, Hugi and his men were convinced she was guilty, but they feared that without the presence of a murder weapon or a viable witness who literally saw her do the shooting, much of what they had gathered to date would be, in all fairness, considered circumstantial evidence and unacceptable in an American courtroom.

Not enough to convict.

The team examined what they had collected so far, among the evidence a small number of .22 caliber bullet casings found on Old Mohawk Road, a very graphic display of carnage in Diane's red Nissan Pulsar, the estimation of the bullets' paths from an accepted authority, a diary that screamed Diane's obsession for ex-lover, her letters colored with pornographic daydreams, and testimony from two men (Steve Downs and former lover) who swore she indeed owned something she continued to disclaim: a .22 caliber handgun.

The most expressive piece of evidence came from the pen of forensic expert Jim Pex who wrote that it was his estimation that some of the unfired 22 caliber shells found in Diane's home had once been worked through the mechanism of the same gun that shot the children. Impressive this, but until the very gun was retrieved, Hugi knew, the court could refute it.

Investigators had also been able to shed doubt on Diane's story that she immediately raced for the hospital after the attack on her kids. By testimony of hospital personnel, she arrived outside ER that fateful night at roughly 10:48 p.m., screaming. "Somebody just shot my kids!" Estimated time she had left the Plourds' home was, according to Heather Plourd herself, 9:45 p.m. The detectives knew that the shooting, then, must have occurred at approximately 10:15 in order to give Diane enough time to re-gather her senses, survey the condition of her kids, then drive (as she had claimed) immediately to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital to reach it by 10:48 p.m. But, in the meantime, a witness had come forward, explaining that he had seen what he was sure was Diane's red Nissan, near 10:20 p.m., moving very slowly five to seven miles an hour along Old Mohawk Road.

"The car," said witness Joseph Inman, "wasn't being driven critically."

Another telling tale, but, so far...just a tale.

But, the legal wheels behind Hugi believed also that Diane was guilty, and the DA maneuvered the wheels to spin to show his support of the long hours his assistant was dedicating to catch a child killer. In Lane County, a grand jury assembled behind closed doors. The panelists wanted to hear directly from those main players that list of testifiers that Hugi had given the DA among them her former lover, Mr. Inman, Heather Plourd, Jim Pex and others, eventually Diane Downs herself.

Other positive things were happening. County Judge Gregory Foote placed the two surviving Downs youngsters in the protective custody of the state's child services bureau. This meant that, for the meantime, Diane was not allowed to see her kids. That she felt she was being treated like a criminal was, in reality, a nose-thumb by Hugi after she violently threatened to remove the children from the hospital and take them away if detectives wouldn't stop hounding her.

Danny, still confined to his bed, was given full protection by the police department until he would be medically released, at which time he would follow his sibling into a suitable foster family. The home where Christie was transported was kept a secret, her whereabouts known by only a few authorities.

 

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