Governor directs flags to half-staff to honor late judge who was Cold War captive

All U.S. and Connecticut flags should be put at half-staff in memory of John T. Downey, 84, a Connecticut judge who died early on Monday morning.

Downey was appointed to the bench in 1987 by then-Gov. William A. O’Neill, and he became chief administrative judge for juvenile matters in 1990. He served in that capacity until 1997, when he took senior judicial status.

Downey also spent more than 20 years as a Cold War prisoner in China, making him the longest held captive in American history.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy directed the flags to be put at half-staff to honor Downey. They should remain at half-staff until services for Downey are held, the date of which has not yet been determined.

‘Enduring two decades of hardship’

“Judge Downey was a remarkable man who not only served this state’s judicial system with distinction, but also served his country with honor, risking his life and enduring two decades of hardship as a Cold War prisoner in China,” Malloy said.

“He has a clear reputation in Connecticut as a caring and compassionate leader, who to this day continues to be a role model for so many in our state,” he said. “He is leaving a lasting legacy in Connecticut.

“I join his family and friends, including his wife Audrey and his son Jack, and all those who served alongside him in celebrating his remarkable life and honoring his memory,” Malloy said.

Yale grad joined the CIA

After graduating from Yale University in 1951, Downey joined the Central Intelligence Agency. While on a CIA mission over China in November 1952, his plane was shot down and he was captured.

Downey subsequently spent the next 20 years in Chinese prisons as a Cold War prisoner, becoming the longest held captive in American history.

Due to the efforts of his mother, Mary Downey, and President Richard M. Nixon, Downey was released and returned to the United States in 1973. Three years later, he graduated from Harvard Law School.

In 2013, Judge Downey received the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the agency’s highest honor of valor.