Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Heartbroken Witness

Back in court during the week, the first of the state's witnesses were brought forth they comprised mostly personnel from McKenzie-Willamette Hospital where Cheryl Downs died and where doctors struggled to save the other two Downs children.

Nurse Rose Martin recalled mother Diane's peculiar attitude toward what had just happened. "She asked how the children were, and I told her the doctors were in there working on them," Martin remembered. "And then she the mother laughed, and she said, 'Only the best for my kids!' and she laughed again and said, 'Well, I have good insurance.'"

Dr. John Mackey, who was in charge of ER the evening of the murder, described the children's chest wounds and the medical team's first, spontaneous efforts of life saving. He then recollected his observation of Diane: "She was extremely composed. She was unbelievably composed. I couldn't believe she was a family member. There were no tears...no disbelief...no, 'Why did this happen to me?'"

X-ray Technician Carleen Elbridge could not get over the fact that Diane, a mother of three severely wounded youngsters, complained about having to be seen in public without makeup.

Throughout the trial, witnesses came and went, each making an impact, some more than others. But, the highpoint the turning point, the riveting point came when Christie Downs was brought to the stand. Quivering, tear-streaked she was ushered to the stand by Fred Hugi. It was clear that he detested the moment, to bring a child face on against her mother, but the moment was needed if American Justice was to be played out.

Hugi, pale, jaw tight, but with a fatherly voice, led the examination of little Christie Downs. From time to time, he handed her Kleenex while she paused to wipe her cheeks; he waited until she regained herself whenever she broke down; usually after her eyes and her mother's momentarily met; he didn't rush her, and he remained gentle. When she spoke, and her voice might be muffled under her sobs, he clarified the question so that the jurors would completely understand the tintinnabulation of that tiny voice.

He loved this little child; it was obvious in the way he looked at her, spoke to her.

The courtroom inhaled, and didn't seem to exhale until it was over. And then especially then breath came short.

Hugi began by explaining to the girl the importance of telling the truth on the stand; she understood. Giving her time to relax, and her voice to become sufficiently audible to the courtroom, he then asked her several routine questions about her family, her schooling, herself. Feeling that she was ready for the heavy stuff, he maneuvered into the day of the crime, her visit with her family to Heather Plourd's home on Sunderman Road in order to give Mrs. Plourd the clipping from the newspaper about horse rentals.

Christie was visibly shaken. Hugi patted her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile. He gave her a moment to recover before proceeding. Reassuring that she was OK, he resumed his line of questioning about what Diane did with her children.

"She leaned over to the back seat and shot Danny," Christie said.

"What happened then? Hugi prompted her. "What happened after Danny got shot?"

Christie Downs
Christie Downs

The child caved in under her tears, and Hugi hugged her. Knowing this must come and wanting to get it over with, he gave her time to find her voice once again. Then quietly, sympathetically he went on. He gingerly rephrased his question, for by this time the court had already gathered what Diane Downs did after she shot Danny.

" Do you remember when you got shot?" Hugi asked her.

"Yeah," she answered.

"Who shot you?"

"My mom," she said simply.

 

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