Crime

Suspect in 2010 Christmas killings withdraws not-guilty plea

Andrew Downs, 20, of Atascadero was arrested Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, on suspicion of murder. Original story »
Andrew Downs, 20, of Atascadero was arrested Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, on suspicion of murder. Original story »

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated murder suspect Andrew Downs' revised plea. He has entered solely a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, not a plea of guilty by reason of insanity.

The man accused of a Christmas Day double homicide in 2010 has admitted that he committed the crimes and has withdrawn his not-guilty plea.

A judge now will decide if he should be committed to a mental institution or prison.

Andrew Downs, 21, had previously entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Now his only plea is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Under the previous pleas, a trial would have had to determine whether he committed the crimes. If it was found that he had, a second phase would have determined his sanity.

Downs’ attorney, Matthew Guerrero, withdrew the not-guilty plea Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, meaning his client is acknowledging his role in the shooting deaths of sisters Kathy Yeager and Beverly Reilly in Santa Margarita. His plea also acknowledges the attempted murder of a man in Atascadero. Downs allegedly beat the man with a wrench hours after he shot the sisters.

Deputy District Attorney Dave Pomeroy and Guerrero agreed to waive the right to a jury trial, meaning Judge John Trice will decide the case.

The trial to determine whether Downs knew right from wrong, and if he was aware of his actions at the time of the shootings, is scheduled to begin Jan. 30.

Downs would face an indefinite commitment to a mental institution with little chance of ever being released if Trice finds that he was insane at the time of the offenses.

If Trice decides Downs was sane, he would face life without the possibility of parole in state prison.

According to court records, Downs was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had received treatment for his condition.

During the beating of the Atascadero man, Glen Johnson, Johnson asked Downs, “Why are you doing this?” according to a Sheriff’s Office report. Downs responded, “Because I’m sick in the head!”

Johnson was a family friend.

Downs did not know the sisters.

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