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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2005

Rudolph man guilty of murder

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Downard Downard
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BOWLING GREEN - In a courtroom packed with people and emotions, a Wood County man was found guilty yesterday of stabbing his wife to death while their three young children slept at her side.

Rodney Downard, 37, of Rudolph was then sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex said he was obligated by law to impose that sentence after Downard was convicted of aggravated murder.

Family members and friends of the defendant and his slain wife, Luann Downard, cried after the verdict was read about 3:30 p.m. The jury, which had heard testimony for four days, deliberated about four hours.

John Roe, Luann's father, said afterward he was "somewhat" gratified by the verdict but felt the sentence was not enough.

"I think he should get longer," Mr. Roe said.

On Jan. 12, Downard plunged a watermelon knife into his wife's heart while she was sleeping.

Prosecutors theorized he planned to go to work that morning before anyone woke up, thereby creating an alibi for himself, but his wife cried out when she was stabbed, which awoke their 8-year-old daughter.

Downard then dialed 911, telling the dispatcher his wife had been stabbed to death, but that he had no idea how it happened.

Rodney Downard's family declined to comment on his conviction.

His attorney, Gene Murray, said his client maintained his innocence and planned to appeal.

When Judge Pollex asked an emotionless Downard if he would like to say anything before the sentence was imposed, he replied, "No, I don't."

While Mr. Murray portrayed Downard as a hard-working man who supported his family, prosecutors said he planned to kill his wife because their marriage was ending, he was insulted that his wife had cheated on him, and he didn't want her to get custody of their children, who were 4, 6, and 8 at the time.

Throughout the trial, Mr. Murray pointed to Downard's 19-year-old son from a previous relationship, Zachary Bankey-Downard, as the suspect investigators should have been looking at. Mr. Bankey-Downard admitted on the witness stand that he'd had a sexual relationship with Mrs. Downard and had a record of juvenile delinquency.

But the prosecution's case was based largely on physical evidence recovered from the scene - bloody latex gloves, bloody towels, and the knife package, all of which contained Downard's DNA or fingerprints.

Wood County Prosecutor Ray Fischer credited Gary Bishop, the special prosecutor, with doing an "exemplary" job.

"I think the physical evidence was very clear to the jury that Mr. Downard was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Mr. Fischer said. Mr. Bishop said he was pleased.

"We hope it will bring some solace to Luann's family," he said. "We're nothing but impressed with the work of the Wood County sheriff's office, the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and the coroner's office. This was a blueprint for how a criminal investigation should be conducted."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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