Does murderer Diane Downs deserve parole?

Does murderer Diane Downs deserve parole?

EUGENE, Ore. -- In May 1983, a mother pulled her car to the side of a rural road in Springfield, Ore., and shot her three children.

Cheryl, age 7, died; 8-year-old Christie survived.

The youngest child, Danny, 3, was paralyzed.

Their mother, Diane Downs, claimed she and her children were the victims of a carjacker. A jury thought otherwise, sentencing Downs to life in prison.

Now, 25 years later, Downs gets a chance to make her case for parole next month.

The crime ruined many lives. Writing a book about the crime changed Ann Rule's life.

"That book took me from being - I had all those children to raise on my own and just barely making it - to having a best seller," said Rule, who wrote "Small Sacrifices" about Downs' life. "It changed my life."

When Rule heard about the case, she came straight to Eugene. Downs was pregnant at the time and claimed a burly man had shot her and her three kids. But Downs' own daughter, christie, testified her mother pulled the trigger.  

Prosecutors claim Downs' motive to kill was because her lover did not want kids.

Downs said she rushed her children to the hospital, but a witness reports only seeing her drive about 5 miles an hour.

Rule said the most shocking thing to her was when they played the song "Hungry like the Wolf" by Duran Duran in the courtroom. That's the song Downs said was playing on the car radio while her children were shot.

"Diane was sitting about 2 feet away from me," Rule said, "and she was tapping her feet to the music as it played. And everyone else in the courtroom was horrified. She was just snapping her fingers and tapping her foot as if she had no connection to it."

A video of Downs enacting her version of events for investigators emerged a few weeks ago. Lane County officials use the tape to train investigators to watch for signs that a suspect is lying.

Rule said the video, where Downs laughs and acts in a light mood, accurately describes Downs.

"She's half laughing and half groaning, and her children, one is dead and the other two are fighting to survive - and she's laughing," Rule said.

Downs was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years housed at the women's correctional facility in Salem for shooting her three children. In 1987, she escaped but was found 10 days later.

The case inspired a made for TV movie. Farah Fawcett starred as Downs.

Some doubt her guilt

Through all this, Downs does have her supporters.

There are Web sites dedicated to trying to prove she's innocent. The most detailed is run by her father, Wesley Frederickson.

In an e-mail, Frederickson wrote that Downs offered to donate her kidney to his sick sister, that she is a good person, and that they had a good relationship. Fredrickson declined to be interviewed in person, saying he'd had a stroke and couldn't do it.

Rule doesn't think anyone other than Downs was involved in the killings. The author of numerous true crime books does predict that, whether Downs is awarded parole or not, the public will hear from her again.

"She enjoyed being the center of attention and enjoyed being on the stand," Rule said.

Even if Downs is granted parole, she will still have 5 years to serve for her escape.