SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon parole board has ruled that Diane Downs must remain in prison for killing one of her daughters a quarter-century ago and seriously wounding her two other children.
Maintaining that she is innocent, Downs answered questions via a video link from a California prison for more than two hours Tuesday in her first chance at parole.
Over the years, she has spun new versions of the shooting, stories that began with a bushy-haired stranger as the culprit. At the hearing, she produced a book that she claimed points to a conspiracy against her and her family.
RAW VIDEO: Hear and see Downs testify
'I will never say that I shot my children'
Steven Powers, board member: "At its essence, it sounds like you're not taking responsibility for the crimes which brought you to prison. So where does that leave the board in your mind?"
Diane Downs: "I did not shoot my children. I will never say that I shot my children."
The three board members deliberated less than half an hour and then said no. Downs sat expressionless, her hands folded on the table in front of her.
One of the investigators of the 1983 shootings described her answers as "a lot of the old Diane, except more so."
"I don't think Diane will ever give it up, ever," said retired detective Doug Welch. "She'll go to her grave denying that she ever shot her kids."
Dave Brewer, who sat on the jury that convicted Downs in 1984, attended the hearing.
"It provided some closure," he said. "It's nice when you convict someone of a crime like this that they stay convicted."
Why Downs thought she deserved parole
Diane Downs: "I believe the board would make the right choice to parole me because I am not a threat to society. I have spent 25 years not being a threat to inmates or staff. Even my escape, which was a felony, was done without a threat to staff or inmates. I have neither done nor said anything that in any way shape or form constitute a threat to human life for 25 years.
Downs' daughter, 7-year-old Cheryl Lynn, was fatally shot on a rural road near Springfield in 1983. Two other children, 3-year-old Danny and 8-year Christie Ann, were seriously wounded.
After she was sentenced to life in prison, plus 55 years, Downs was the subject of a best-selling book by Ann Rule and a made-for-television movie starring Farrah Fawcett.
The prosecution alleged Downs shot her children because she believed they were in the way of her relationship with a married man. At the time, Downs was a 27-year-old postal worker who had recently relocated to Oregon from Arizona after a divorce. She is now 53.
After shooting the children, Downs shot herself in the arm before driving to a hospital, prosecutors said. Those who treated Downs at the hospital noted her calm behavior. Later, as a video documented, she giggled at times as she re-enacted the attack for police.
She made headlines in 1987 when she escaped from the Oregon Women's Correctional Center. She was captured 10 days later at a home less than a mile from the prison.
Since then, she has been housed at facilities in New Jersey, Washington state and Chowchilla, Calif.
Christie, who testified against her mother in 1984, and Danny were later adopted by a prosecutor in the case, Fred Hugi.
Now adults, they did not testify at the hearing although they could have. The board took written statements from those who opposed parole, and nobody but Downs spoke to the members Tuesday.
"Downs continues to fail to demonstrate any honest insight into her criminal behavior," wrote Lane County District Attorney F. Douglass Harcleroad. "She continues to blame others for the commission of her crimes, and blames her attorney, the police officers, the prosecutor and others for her convictions. Even after her convictions, she continues to fabricate new versions of events under which the crimes occurred."
During questioning, Downs sat at a desk wearing a T-shirt, and her hair was cut shorter than it had been in a recent prison mug shot.
"I did not shoot my children," she told the board. "I will never say I shot my children. My children are out there somewhere and I love them."
She choked up when talking about Cheryl.
"Cheryl was an awesome kid," she said. "Cheryl was funny, she was lovable, she was cuddly. ... The world has missed out on a lot because of missing Cheryl."
Downs reiterated a story about having a boyfriend who claimed to be in the FBI and said she was on her way to meet someone who had photographs for him.
She said she is not sure if the man who attacked her family was the man she was supposed to meet or a stranger who flagged her down.
"I have no understanding of why anyone would want to do this," she said.
Downs will next be eligible for parole in 2011. If she is ever granted parole, her release will be delayed 14 months as she serves time for the 1987 escape.
(Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.)