Nason trial nears climax (mentions Donny bio son)

Date: 1995-09-27

Nason trial nears climax

By Eric Dolson
The following is not strictly a "news story." It includes impressions beyond words spoken in the courtroom. Sometimes, facts can obscure the truth. Reader beware.

On Thursday last week Diane Nason sat on the stand in a Bend courtroom and answered questions from her own attorney. This was her chance to answer allegations the state has made against Diane's "Celebration Family."

The state is alleging that the "Celebration Family" was a not a family at all but instead a criminal enterprise set up to bilk the good hearted out of tens of thousands of dollars and maintained by a pattern of criminal acts that included the physical and emotional abuse of adopted children.

Prosecutor Kathleen Payne-Pruitt had previously asked Diane's son Donny about the locking of one of his adopted brothers in a cage-like bed, then in a locked bedroom with heavy screen mesh over the windows.

Through his questions to Diane Nason, her attorney David Glenn tried to put a different face on what happened.

Diane said the boy, who had Down Syndrome, would sneak into the kitchen and bring food back into his room. He would eat until he would throw up, she testified. He would smear feces on the walls, daily. He threw a chair through a window once, hence the screening, she testified.

They had to provide the child with a secured environment, Diane said, for his own safety and that of the other children.

At the same time, she described the boy as "wild and crazy and fun," and "pure love." She said that he had shown the Nasons "how simple and uncomplicated love should be" and if the world were made up of Down children "we wouldn't have any moon rockets but you wouldn't have any wars."

Diane was in her element, answering these soft questions with a blend of humor, bite and piety. It's as if she had no temper, knew no frustration. It was almost too much, especially if you had heard it before.

This was the Diane shown to Harry Reasoner of "60 Minutes," this was the Diane who appeared on the religious show "The 700 Club," this was Diane from her own book, "The Celebration Family."

No, she testified, she did not keep a cattle prod in the house, had "never used a cattle prod on anything, on a child, especially," with a look of mild incredulity that such a thing could be suggested.

What this Diane didn't say in court was that there were strains tearing at the very fabric of the Nason's household at this time, that there were those close to Dennis and Diane, some on the board of directors of their nonprofit organization, who had serious doubts about Diane's emotional stability.

There were problems between Dennis and Diane.

There were sexual encounters among the children.

Things were not in control.

Diane did acknowledge her health was failing, first with an intestinal illness she said she contracted during a trip to Mexico that rendered her so anemic she was taking intravenous iron, then with endometriosis and cysts that required major internal surgery.

But there was also the strain of failing friendships, dark hints of suicide attempts and possibly imagined infidelities. More than one friend and long-time supporter worried aloud that Diane might be capable of setting fire to the large bustling farmhouse east of Sisters, creating for herself the role of martyr in the "Celebration Tragedy."

Supporters began to pull the financial life support from the family and it began to shrink as Diane and Dennis found homes for at least 40 of the 54 children who lived in the Nason home between January and March of 1991.

Among the charges against them is that Dennis and Diane forged documnets, medical histories, to get these children placed.

Diane did testify that she and Dennis and 13 remaining children went to Toutle, Washington to look for a fresh start. They fled to Canada for eight days to "regroup" when they found out that Oregon's Children's Services Division had issued an all-points bulletin for their return to Oregon.

Questions by the defense helped paint a picture of a large family doing what they could in the face of adversity, doing what they must to care for dozens of children, some with exceptionally dire needs, in a time of extreme difficulty.

The question unasked was whether this difficulty grew from Diane Nason's desire to adopt more and more children. Another question yet to be answered is whether all these children made up a family, and whether all these children were family members.

The prosecution alleges that this group of orphans from around the world, some blind, some deaf, some with significant retardation was not a family at all but individuals brought to Sisters as a ploy to raise money. A criminal enterprise. A racket.

Diane's attorney David Glenn asked Diane about baby books, and explained in response to the prosecution's objection that "a family that maintains a baby book ƒis a family, not a (criminal) enterprise."

Perhaps neither picture of the Nason family is completely accurate, but only one will triumph in the Deschutes County courtroom. This week Diane Nason was to be cross- examined by the prosecution.

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