WESTMINSTER — Through an unusual cooperative effort by a judge, the State's Attorney's Office and defense attorneys, the case of the shooting death of a Mount Airy mother of three was closed Monday morning in Carroll Circuit Court.
Anne Rita Downs, 30, was murdered about 2:30 a.m. Dec.19 in the master bedroom of her home on Wind Ridge Road.
On Monday, her 31-year-old husband admitted shooting her in the back of the head as she slept.
Edwin F. Downs Jr. pleaded guilty tofirst-degree murder and using a handgun in the commission of a crime.
Downs waived his right to a presentence investigation and asked to be sentenced Monday.
Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. sentenced him to life in prison for the murder charge and 20 years for the handgun violation. He could be eligible for parole in about 24 years, Burns said.
The case was scheduled to go before a jury this week, butDowns' attorneys contacted the State's Attorney's Office last week and said their client was interested in working out a deal.
Downs wanted to plead "no contest" to the charges, but Burns said he would not accept that plea.
"I felt it was important for the family -- for her family -- to a have a definite resolution to the case," Burns said, adding that cooperation between the parties in the case was "highly unusual for Carroll County."
State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said all parties were concerned about the feelings of the families involved in the case over a plea agreement.
"In this county, we take very strongly into account the attitudes of victims' families," said Hickman. "The families on both sides of this case were wonderful. Anne Downs' family was not at all vindictive or vengeful."
Burns said Edwin Downs' family told him they thought of Anne Downs as a daughter and were distraught at her death.
Both families told Burns they were eager to avoid a lengthy trial, the judge said.
Since his arrest for the murder of his wife, Downs maintained that she must have been killed by two men he had seen holding a gun to a woman's head in Washington a few days earlier.
He said the same men shot at himon the morning of his wife's death, as he was driving on his Route 27 delivery route for the Washington Post. He reported the shooting toMontgomery County Police at 3:18 a.m. and asked that they send someone to check on his wife and children in Mount Airy. When a trooper from the Westminster barracks of the state police arrived at the home, he found Anne Downs dead in her bed and the couple's oldest child -- an 8-year-old boy -- trying to wake up his mother.
Downs maintained his story of the drive-by shooters until he pleaded guilty Monday.
Hickman read a statement of facts in the case Monday that said Downs was having an affair at the time of the murder with a Washington Post deliverywoman.
After picking up his papers for delivery at about 1:45 a.m. Dec. 19, Downs went back to his home and shot his wife in the head with a .357-caliber Magnum pistol that he purchased in 1987 when he was working at Northrop Corp. in Southern California, according to the statement of facts.
He left the home around 2:45 a.m.and drove south on Route 27. He pulled off the road just below BrinkRoad and shot three bullets into his van. Then he called Montgomery County Police and reported the shooting, the statement said.
Afterpleading guilty to the crime, Downs stood before Burns and told his family and his wife's family that he was sorry. He apologized for taking the time of the
court, police officers and Hickman.
"I havespent five months sitting in the jail across the street trying to figure out what could have happened," said a tearful Downs. "But I haveno explanation at all."
He did not mention Anne Downs or his three children, who are living with their paternal grandparents. One of Anne Downs' brothers has applied for custody of the children, who are 7 months old, 4 and 8.