Murdering Mom: The Murder of Diane Michele
Diane O’Connor was born April 27th, 1954. She married James Dankovich in 1989 and later that same year gave birth to her only child, son Christopher Dankovich. Although her marriage to James, a chiropractor, would end amicably in 1995, Diane and James continued to coparent Christopher. Diane, who changed her last name to Michele following the divorce, was given primary custody, but Christopher often visited his father in his Troy, Michigan home. As Christopher grew into adolescence and started high school, he began to rebel, and typical parent and teen arguments occurred in the family. No one could have imagined one of these arguments would lead to Diane’s brutal murder just days before her fifty-first birthday.
In April of 2005, Christopher was fifteen and a freshman at Rochester Adams High School. He had recently dyed his hair blue, but that wasn’t what really concerned Diane about her son. She had discovered Chris had been utilizing the computer to view pornography and research firearms. Some say Diane, a social worker, counselor, hypnotherapist, and minister, was also concerned about a girl Christopher was dating.
On Saturday, April 23rd, 2005, Christopher snuck out of his father’s Troy home and rode a bicycle through falling snow. He was found in Bloomfield Hills trying to enter a school. He was taken into police custody and later released to his father. The next day, Sunday April 24th, James returned Christopher to his mother’s residence in Rochester Hills. Diane, James, and Christopher sat down to have a family meeting and discuss the parents’ concerns with Christopher’s recent rebellion.
When James was unable to reach his ex-wife or son later Sunday night, he contacted Diane’s mother who agreed to check on Diane and Christopher early Monday morning. When she arrived at Diane’s home, she found a grisly murder scene. Diane had been stabbed one-hundred-eleven times. The crime was so brutal that one of her eyes had actually been removed by repeated stabbing. “This is one of the most horrific crime scenes anyone has ever seen” said Oakland County Prosecutor Kelly Chard (Wilkins, 2005).
Missing from the scene was Christopher Dankovich and Diane’s white van. Although Christopher did not have a driver’s license, authorities believed he was driving the van. Diane’s own mother, Christopher’s grandmother, suggested that Christopher may have been responsible for the brutal murder related to the friction in the mother-son relationship recently. Now authorities were tasked with finding their prime suspect.
At the scene, police found a blue-handled folding knife containing blood and hair. Additional blood droplets were found throughout the house and in the sinks. Bloody clothes were discovered in the laundry room. An all-points bulletin, APB, was put out for the white van. Police were informed the van was spotted near Twin Lakes, where James Dankovich owned a cabin.
Police surrounded the cabin and prepared to capture Christopher, their fifteen-year-old prime suspect. Christopher cooperated and surrendered without incident, much the relief of authorities. He had shaved off his blue hair and was now sporting a buzz cut. Inside the cabin, they found military style survival gear and some guns that the teen had made himself utilizing PVC pipe and internet instructions.
The community was baffled by this crime. Christopher was a non-violent person who had never been in any serious trouble. He was a good student and had good family support. Despite his parents’ divorce, Christopher seemed to have the support and love of both parents and no documented history of abuse or neglect. How could this have happened?
Diane’s colleague said “Christopher was the center of her life. Every decision was made with him in mind. I never heard her complain about him, except she said he was getting mouthy” (Swickard, Witsil, & Low, 2005). The Detroit Free Press article included characterizations by the same colleague of typical offenders of parricide indicating they typically fall into one of three groups: severely abused, mentally ill, or dangerously antisocial. As far as anyone knew, Christopher did not fit into any of those groups. According to research, adults are more likely than juveniles to commit parricide and sons are more likely to murder their father than their mother, further differentiating this case (Guy, 2018).
After his arrest, Christopher confessed to his crime. He told authorities that an argument over his recent behavior, including accessing pornography and weapons websites, triggered a frenzied attack that Christopher insists was not planned. The fifteen-year-old was charged as an adult with murder. He was facing a life sentence.
His attorney, Michell Ribitwer, said, “he is baffled and distraught” (Murderpedia). He went on to explain that he believed Christopher suffered from mental health issues and required a thorough mental health evaluation prior to trial. Christopher’s attorney believed the boy had a chance at acquittal related to mental fitness. However, Christopher Dankovich had other plans.
Christopher insisted on pleading guilty and taking responsibility for the horrendous crime he committed. He plead guilty in February 2006 of stabbing his mother one-hundred-eleven times including in her chest, back, face, neck, eyes, heart, and head. Diane’s mother agreed to a plea deal in which Christopher would be convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to between 22 and 34 years in prison. Christopher also pled guilty to using a computer to access explosives-related websites. In a surprise move, the judge rejected this plea, however, causing Christopher to withdraw his guilty plea in March 2006. The judge defended his decision citing concerns over public safety following Dankovich’s release.
In May 2006, the prosecution and defense reached another agreement, this time satisfying the judge’s concerns. Although the defense attorney firmly believed Christopher should go to trial with an affirmative defense of mental fitness, Christopher preferred a guilty plea. He was found guilty in the accepted plea arrangement and sentenced to a minimum of twenty-five years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. His maximum sentence would be thirty-seven years.
“I’d just like to say how sorry I am for what I did” Christopher Dankovich said at his sentencing hearing (The Oakland Press, 2006). According to his defense attorney, Diane had mentally abused Christopher, leading Christopher to have mental health issues. The judge in this case voiced frustration over the case stating “You were a fairly model student, no behavior problems at all. That’s what concerns me. I just can’t see any good reason for this” (The Oakland Press, 2006).
According to a piece written by Christopher Dankovich himself after his incarceration, he refused to plead guilty because he didn’t want to believe his thoughts were wrong. He also claims a history of abuse from his mother. “My mother sucker-punched me and threw me headfirst into our living room’s glass-and-wood coffee table” (Dankovich). He went on to say, “spent 15-and-a-half years in a house with someone who kept my bedroom window nailed shut and barred me from going outside” (Dankovich).
James Dankovich advocates for prison reforms, writing articles about parenting Christopher from the other side of the bars. He said he struggles with the realities of the criminal justice system including cancelled visitations, celebrating birthdays and holidays without traditional decorations or food, and being searched for prior to visits. He advocates for improved food and programs for prisoners. “The process is a lot like watching a favorite antique vase shatter. After picking up the pieces, gluing it back together and telling yourself it’s as good as new” (Dankovich, J.).
Christopher Dankovich is currently housed at Michigan’s Thumb Correctional Center. His earliest release date is April 24th, 2030, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his mother’s murder. He will be forty-one years old. At maximum, Dankovich will be released in 2042, at the age of fifty-three. Christopher will be young enough to live amongst society, but will he be capable of living productively after spending his entire adult life behind bars? Will the mental health issues and alleged history of abuse rear its ugly head and cause Christopher to be a continued threat to society? Only time will tell.
Michigan Department of Corrections (Accessed 2021) Dankovich, Christopher; Retrieved at: Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS) - Offender Profile (state.mi.us)
Guy, F. (2018) The psychology of parricide: when children kill their own parents; Crime Traveller; Retrieved at: The Psychology of Parricide: When Children Kill Their Own Parents - Crime Traveller
FindAGrave (Accessed 2021) Diane O’Connor Michele; Retrieved at: Diane O'Connor Michele (1954-2005) - Find a Grave Memorial
Swickard, J., Witsil, F., Low, M. (2005) Answers escape friends of mother found brutally slain; Detroit Free Press; 02 May 2005
Murderpedia (Accessed 2021) Christopher James Dankovich; Retrieved at: Christopher Dankovich | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers
The Oakland Press (2006) Killer Son “I’m not a violent person”; The Oakland Press; Retrieved at: Killer son: ‘I’m not a violent person’ – The Oakland Press
Dankovich, C. (2016) I’m losing my mind after refusing to plead insanity for murdering my mom; The Marshal Project; Retrieved at: I'm Losing My Mind After Refusing to Plead Insanity for Murdering My Mom | The Marshall Project
Dankovich, J. (Date Unknown) Chris Dankovich’s dad on raising a son – in prison; Prison Writers; Retrieved at: https://prisonwriters.com/chris-dankovich-dad/