Date: 1993-12-06

Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)

Author: GORDON OLIVER - of the Oregonian Staff
Dateline: BEND

Summary: The parents say the charges of manslaughter and abuse are the result of a vendetta, but their lawyer won't let Diane Nason explain that remark

Life's joys and sorrows are colliding this Christmas season for a Sisters couple accused by the state of racketeering, manslaughter and abuse of some of their 76 adopted children.

Dennis and Diane Nason spent the Saturday dinner hour at an attorney's office in Bend with eight of their children, declaring their innocence of all the charges.

Then they headed off to Bend High School to watch a production of ``The Nutcracker,'' in which their son, Donnie, plays the prince. Donnie, one of just three Nason children living at home, dropped by in his makeup to support his parents.

But the Christmases of the past, when the Nasons hung as many as 80 stockings and read Bible stories to their children, are a long way away. Dennis and Diane Nason are not allowed to see some of their children, and others don't want to see the parents they say abused them.

They will gather without them in the small Sisters apartment where the family lives now.

Diane Nason, appearing calm and focused, said she welcomed the chance to speak out against abuse allegations that have hovered over the family for two years.

But her court-appointed attorney, David Glenn of Madras, ran interference every time the discussion turned to the 27 criminal allegations included in a grand jury indictment issued last month.

Some of the charges, he said, are outrageous.

Diane Nason, who sat surrounded by her children and with her husband standing behind, said that her family had become victim of a ``power and political agenda built by those with a vendetta.''

Glenn would not allow her to elaborate. She said she would tell the family's story nationally as a way of encouraging others to ``stand up for the things they believe in,'' but admitted that she is not optimistic.

``I don't believe people can do what we did in this day and age, with the laws that have passed,'' she said.

The Nasons have given birth to six children and they have adopted 76 others between 1968 and 1990. Most of the children adopted by the Nasons have physical or mental disabilities.

The Oregon Children's Services Division investigated the home 10 times through the years in response to concerns about child abuse and once put two children in temporary foster care.

The agency continued to waive its right to conduct home studies at the time of adoptions, allowing private agencies to conduct the studies before sending the adoption applications to a local judge for approval.

The Nasons reduced the size of their family in 1991 by finding new homes for nearly 50 children after facing financial, health and marital problems. CSD moved in on the family in January 1992, removing the remaining 12 children last year. Three biological children have been returned to the home, and the others are in foster care or new adoptive homes.

Saturday evening, Nason children ranging in age from 13 to 33 defended their parents.

Gary Nason, 33, said he was adopted by the Nasons when he was 17. ``If it wasn't for them, I don't know where I would be,'' said the Sisters restaurant worker. ``I would be a drug addict, dead or homeless.''

Kari Nason, a 24-year-old woman adopted from Vietnam two decades ago, said living in the huge Nason household had been a good experience. She criticized CSD, saying the agency ``expects you to be perfect.''

The family tragedy spills over to the many small communities of Central Oregon. Donnie attends high school with a Nason daughter who testified in custody hearings that she had been abused by her parents. Others remain in the community in foster or adoptive homes.

The Deschutes County district attorney's office, which issued the criminal indictment last month, is referring calls to the state attorney general's office, which is handling the case. Marla Rae, spokeswoman for that office, had no comment.

``We're not going to engage in some public debate with the Nasons,'' she said. ``From here on out, we're going to be limited to what's in the indictment itself.''

The case probably won't get to trial untl next summer.

The Nasons face three charges of manslaughter over the deaths of two infants and a toddler in their home. Two died in 1985 of shigella, a bacterial infection that is easily treatable and rarely fatal. An infant girl died in 1988 of malnutrition.

The indictment alleges that the Nasons withheld food, medical care and physical care from some of their children; that they had poked children with an electric cattle prod; that Diane Nason stabbed a son with a knife, kicked another and struck a daughter with a bottle; and that both parents had kicked one of their sons.

They face seven counts of aggravated theft for allegedly providing false information in adoption proceedings for some of their children.

The state also charged the Nasons with racketeering, and listed 35 specific charges. They involve criminal mistreatment of children, false income statements on adoption papers, and theft of more than $10,000 from the family run Great Expectations school.


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