In Search of the Truth: The Story of Darlie Lynn Routier

by Anne Good

Part 1: INTRODUCTION

The Mystery Unravels

On June 6, 1996, in the quiet suburbs of North Dallas, little Damon, 5,and Devon, 6, lay sleeping on the floor in front of the television. Their mother, Darlie Routier, 26, slept on the couch. What happened next remains a mystery. Suffering from partial amnesia, Ms. Routier recalls being "awakened" by her son and "feeling groggy." She saw a man in a baseball cap standing near the couch. Both of her sons died that night of multiple and brutal stab wounds to the upper torso inflicted by a knife from the Routier kitchen, and a second knife which has never been found. Ms. Routier's throat was slashed to within 2 mm. of her carotid artery and she also suffered multiple injuries and stab wounds. Although Routier claims an intruder had attached them, within twenty minutes the Rowlett Police Department decided she was their suspect and her wounds were self-inflicted. Twelve days later, she was arrested. Seven months later, she was convicted and sentenced to die.

With no substantial evidence, no confession, no motive, and no eyewitness, her conviction is as much of a mystery as the actual events surrounding the murders. One explanation may lie in the tremendous impact of the"Silly String" tape. This fifteen-second tape, shot by a local news station, shows a smiling Darlie spraying the "silly string" on the boys' freshly dug graves just eight days after the murders. The jury viewed it nine times during deliberations. Rita Way, a juror and spokesperson for the jury, referring to the tape, said, "I don't think the defense proved that she was innocent and no mother that had their children murdered can act that way after eight days. I mean eight days! I just can't see it." What Ms. Ways and the other jurors did not see was the surveillance tape, made by the Rowlett Police Department on the same day, which clearly shows a solemn graveside service and a mother in pain. The irony is that a Judge ruled this tape could not be admitted into evidence as there was no warrant and the taping was illegal. Had the jury been allowed to see the entire graveside service, would they have reached a different conclusion? For many in Texas and throughout the country, this question demands an answer.

Another explanation may be connected to the media-created image of Darlie Routier. It primarily consisted of endless titillating chatter about her "freshly-dyed blonde hair," "breast implants," and "sex toys" found in her bedroom. Drug use and child abuse were also implied, although a blood test and hair analysis revealed Ms. Routier was not a user of illegal drugs and no evidence has ever been presented to substantiate any claims of child abuse. In tabloid fashion, they characterized her as "the mother from hell," and "the next Susan Smith," despite the fact that those who knew her well said just the opposite. Family and friends portrayed her as a loving mother and wife, a woman concerned with the well-being of others. The state opted to present the media-produced image of Darlie to the jury.

 

Serious Doubts

There is also serious doubt about the integrity of the investigation and trial of Ms. Routier. Claims of incompetence, bias, witness tampering, tainted evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, and perjury have gained a rapid momentum as many Texans begin to reexamine the case that has held their attention for three long years. Ms. Routier, now awaiting a lethal injection, continues steadfast in her claim of innocence. Newly discovered evidence and recently released crime scene photos seem to support her. At the time of trial, the defense was only allowed 400 of the 1000 photos taken. When viewed in context, the additional 600 photos reveal the full depth of police incompetence and a severely compromised crime scene. Evidence is moved, blood is trampled on, blankets are folded and unfolded (disturbing the blood-spatter pattern), key DNA evidence is placed in paper bags from a local grocery store, and several bloody boot prints not belonging to any police officer are clearly revealed as well as two bloody finger prints, one on the alleged point of exit by the intruder. The "new" photos also contradict and impeach key testimony given by various investigators on behalf of the state. Additionally, a neighbor has now come forward saying that on the night of the murders she saw two men near the Routier home. This supports testimony by Angela Rickles who came forward after Ms. Routier's arrest and told police that two men tried to break into her home on the night of the murders. L.D. Middleton also states that on March 22, 1996 an intruder slashed a few of his window screens before finding an unlocked window over the kitchen sink. The intruder rifled through the kitchen drawers and police told Mr.Middleton, "He was probably getting a large knife in case you woke up." The Middletons live five minutes from the Routier home. They now state, "Obviously, we didn't wake up or we would both be either dead or worse, one of us might be on Death Row."

Aside from new evidence, the old evidence remains problematic. The prosecution presented a time frame that is simply not feasible and the murders could not have occurred as they theorized. There is also the blood-stained sock found 75 yards from the Routier home. The sock contains both of the boys' blood and Darlie's DNA, most likely from saliva. How it got there is something the prosecution could not answer. They didn't need to answer. They had pure emotion on their side and a nation still feeling the sting of betrayal from Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who claimed on national television that her two young boys were abducted by a black man. Ten days later, she confessed to killing them.

 

United By Truth

There is an old saying in the world of law, "If the facts don't fit, cite the law. If the law doesn't fit, cite the facts. If neither fits....pound your fist on the podium and play to the juror's emotions." Lead prosecutor Greg Davis chose the latter. The law didn't fit, the facts didn't fit -- but the "silly string" did. In a profession that dictates truth and justice above all else, Mr. Davis implemented what some observers have called, "a surprisingly gutless, win-at-any-cost style of prosecution." Even those who think Ms. Routier is guilty are beginning to ask for more from our system of justice than macho "fist pounding." Many want Darlie to go to the death chamber with evidence so solid, so damning, so iron-clad, that even her family can no longer maintain her innocence. Without that, the death penalty is in serious jeopardy. It is precisely cases like Ms. Routier's that give justice advocates a pole on which to fly their flag and weakens the popular belief in state-sanctioned executions. The very survival of this law hinges upon a societal belief that all avenues of truth are fully explored, that the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defendant was presumed innocent at the onset and for the duration of the trial. Ms. Routier's investigation and trial, although labeled by some, "an anomaly," contained not one of these basic elements. Death penalty proponents and opponents alike may be united, if only for a moment, by this seemingly flagrant disregard for our system of justice. In another ironic twist, Texans are beginning to see it is only in obtaining justice for Ms. Routier that this unjust law can remain intact.

The demand for a new trial for Darlie Routier seems to be gaining support from many Texans regardless of their point of view. If the prosecution's case is fair and solid, she will be found guilty again. If there is any validity to the claims of incompetence, prosecutorial misconduct, witness and jury tampering, and perjury, that too will be revealed and Ms. Routier will be exonerated.

The debate on the death penalty put aside, reasonable people can agree that a young woman who claims to be innocent should not be executed in "the name of justice" over nothing more than character assassination and a meaningless can of "silly string."

With the firm belief that Darlie Routier was in part, convicted by media-hype, it seemed critical in my search for the truth to meet her face-to-face. In May, 1999, I had the opportunity to do just that.. The following is a condensed account of our afternoon together.

 

Part 2: THE WOMAN BENEATH THE HYPE

{Note from the Editor: Sometimes a newspaper or magazine sends a reporter out on an assignment without anticipating that she will become involved to the point of becoming an advocate in a way even the reporter could not foresee. This happened to Anne Good. Anne's story is the result of the unexpected. Like Chris Brown, whose book is reviewed in this issue by Anne, she has been persuaded by both the facts and her meeting with Ms. Routier. As Justice Denied, the magazine, we take no collective stand about anyone's innocence or guilt because we see things differently. As individuals, we must be free to take a stand, and often become advocates. -- Clara A. Thomas Boggs}

In his opening statement, Prosecutor Greg Davis told the jury, the state of Texas and the country that "the real Darlie Routier is a self-centered woman, a materialistic woman and a woman cold enough to murder her own children." His case was built on the premise that Ms. Routier, angry over losing her money, her freedom, and her figure, brutally and savagely stabbed her two young sons to death while they slept, then staged a crime scene and blamed an intruder.

Today, three years later, just mention the name of Darlie Routier anywhere in the state of Texas and people feel compelled to speak out. Not from some platform of knowledge built on facts and evidence, but from some deep inner vision of the way they think the world should be, based on the most significant relationship in all our lives -- our mothers -- and the media-produced image of Darlie is simply in direct conflict with our societal fantasies of "mom."

Vehement cries of "Fry the bitch," "Cold-blooded, child-killer," and "It's Susan Smith all over again" lie in direct contrast to cool, logical comments like "Maybe she is innocent" to a slightly louder "She was railroaded by the media and the courts." -- It was with some slight trepidation that I agreed to meet Darlie Routier.

With blonde highlights in her long, dark hair, the only evidence of the life she once lived, Darlie Routier appears younger than her twenty-nine years. The make-up and gold jewelry, now long gone, have been replaced by an inner glow and a simple handmade beaded cross necklace. A white prison uniform is her only choice of clothing. In another setting she would be considered naturally attractive. Here on death row, she feels "older than I am."

With the brutal murder of her two boys, 7 year-old Devon and 5 year-old Damon, and Darlie herself savagely attacked, she has survived more than most people experience in a lifetime. Add the fact that she has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to die for a crime she says, "I did not commit," and it totals an experience that is unfathomable to most of us. All before her 27th birthday.

Still, Darlie managed a warm smile when we met and spoke with a candor and sincerity that only people who understand the temporal, fragile nature of life can seem to muster. I was instantly taken aback.

I began my journey to Dallas County with the simple belief that Darlie deserved a new trial. Her guilt or innocence was not an issue for me and I suspected she was indeed "self-centered." I doubted I would like her but liking someone is not a condition for promoting justice. I only intended to support the notion that a new trial was absolutely necessary and that Silly String and "hype" are not evidence. I was going to ask Darlie a few questions, take some notes, and get the heck out of downtown Dallas before rush hour traffic began and my waiting pitcher of Margaritas began to melt. -- But something happened along the way.

Maybe it was the way Darlie held her head up high. Maybe it was when she asked all about my little boy. Maybe it was her courage when she candidly spoke about the night of June 6, 1996. Maybe it was the way she tugged on her cross necklace when she occasionally groped for the right word. Maybe it was the pain in her eyes when she spoke of her "babies," Devon and Damon, and the fire in her eyes when she vowed to continue her daily struggle for survival. Most likely it was all of these things, and more.

I saw her soul and it was kind and gentle and forgiving. I knew the media and the prosecutors had lied to me.

During our afternoon together I discovered that Darlie is not just a case for the courts to decide. She is a human being; part of the sum total that connects us all. Darlie is valiantly fighting to survive for all of us: her husband, Darin, her baby, Drake, her family, friends, supporters and detractors. She does not fear a lethal injection. Her faith tells her a better world is waiting for her -- a world where Damon and Devon now live. What Darlie says she fears most is that Drake, now age 3, may have to grow up with "the lies and contempt and without a Mother." She also fears letting down her steadfast supporters. She fears that the state will win with tainted evidence and the tabloid image the media helped create.

She is wise enough to know if that happens, we all lose.

Now, Darlie gets up each day and lives with the cloudy, surreal images from that long ago June night floating in and out of her consciousness like a Fellini film gone awry. As Darlie describes it, "I can never forget that night. My entire world collapsed. I relive it all the time. I remember telling Damon, 'Hold on, baby, hold on!' The last thing he said to me was 'OK, Mommy.'" Her eyes were distant and moist with tears. She was in a place we all fear entering and where we pray we never have to go. This writer's eyes were moist, too.

Her strength is inspiring.

Midway through our conversation Darlie paused, looked directly into my eyes and said, "Anne, do you know what it is like to beg people to believe you? To tell them over and over and over that I didn't kill my babies ... and they just don't get it? They want me to be guilty -- they want this wrapped up and forgotten about. I spent my first several months in here thinking 'Any minute now they will realize that they have made a mistake.' I thought that for a very long time. And what really scares me, and should scare all of us, is the police have never found the real killer. He is still out there and he could be living in Dallas or Detroit or anywhere. Our children are not safe. I worry about that.... I worry about that a lot."

"I love children. All the kids in our neighborhood liked to be at my house. Mine was the only house in the neighborhood that allowed all the kids to play inside. That was how I wanted it. I always knew what Devon and Damon were doing and what they were being exposed to."

"Now I try to help some of the young girls who come in here. I remember what it was like for me in the beginning and I hope they can learn from my experience. This can be a very rough place."

Even in her own battle for her life, she is concerned with the well-being of others.

That fateful June night is never very far from her thoughts and she returns to it frequently, unwillingly drawn into that bleak emotional abyss where she said good bye to her little boys forever, in this lifetime.

When Darlie Routier speaks, it is with the quiet wisdom of one who has been beaten down but refuses to give up. Frequently, she looks at her hands. Unconsciously, she holds onto her cross necklace as though the very act may give her the strength to make it through the next few sentences. I swear I could sometimes see the images she lives with daily.

Darlie has grown from a woman who "lived in her own world" into an advocate for justice. Often it is not her own appeal that is first and foremost on her mind, but rather it is the situation of any one of a number of young girls she is trying to help.

The "flashy Texas housewife" is really down to earth and introspective. Why didn't I know this before?

Darlie speaks about her friends on The Row. Karla Faye Tucker immediately becomes her focal point and mine. "She was magnetic. She influenced a lot of people, even the guards. She spoke about love and faith without sounding preachy, just genuine concern. Everyone who spent time with her knew she was special. I wish I could be more like the person she became." Her eyes begin to moisten as she recalls the life of the dear friend who died at the hands of the state. I can see she has suffered much loss and the pain it causes her is easily visible to anyone who is willing to look. My eyes are moist once again. She continues in a soft, gentle voice, steadied by her hand clasping her necklace, "See, most people don't know that about her and the other women on The Row. People on the outside don't know they are human beings....not some animals.They laugh, they cry, they have hopes and dreams, and they have people they love. There are many who will always see Karla as the 'cold-blooded pick ax murderer who deserved what she got.' It makes me sad because she was so much more and most people will never know about it. She lifted me through some very tough times." Her voice cracking slightly and her eyes staring intently at her hands, Darlie recalls the night her friend Karla was executed. "I sobbed and sobbed all night long. Karla really, really cared about people and I knew it wasn't right what they did to her." To some extent, Darlie still grieves the loss -- or perhaps loss and grieving have become an everyday aspect of her life. She has certainly experienced more than her fair share.

Lost children, lost family, lost freedom, lost friends ... and still she manages a warm smile. I, on the other hand, have been known to frown due to adverse weather conditions.

Inevitably, the subject of the death penalty comes up. I don't know if I mentioned it first or Darlie did. It had been hanging in the air since my arrival. Darlie shut her eyes for a moment. She was not proud of what she was about to say but, because it was the truth, she continued. "It's a weird thing. I mean here I am on Death Row and I used to really believe in capital punishment. And I was very outspoken about it. I have come to see how all life is valuable but when I think about the man who did this to my little boys -- sometimes I think a lethal injection would be too good for him. It's a constant struggle for me. I mean, here I am on Death Row and he is out there somewhere, free to do this to another family. Many people think like I used to -- if someone is tried and convicted, they must be guilty. I was shocked to initially find out I wasn't the only innocent person in here. By getting my story out I hope I can help people see that I am not the only one in this situation. There are many innocent people in prisons all over the country. A lot of them are there because they maintain their innocence. If I would have confessed to a crime I didn't commit, I may not be on death row today. But you know what? I would rather have the state murder me than to ever say "I killed my boys." I will never do that! I loved them with all my heart and I won't betray that love. I would never have hurt them. They were my life. I always believed the justice system worked. I was naive. I am not naive now." As almost an afterthought she added, "Why would I call 911 while my baby was still alive if I wanted him dead?"

On that note, I felt it was time to address "The Silly String Graveside Party," as it has come to be known. Like the rest of the country, I watched the news in 1996 uneasily as a smiling Darlie sprayed the boy's freshly dug graves with this party favor. With slight apprehension I said, "I suppose if you had it all to do over again you would pass on the Silly String." I expected a resounding, "Yes!" Instead, there was a long a pause. "Anne, I know that the video tape is the reason I was convicted. But I can honestly say I would do it the same way again. If someone wants to take fifteen seconds out of my life and distort it, there is nothing I can do about that. It was a gesture of love for my boys and it was a way to help ease the minds of their little friends who were in pain. I wanted them to see Devon and Damon as being happy in heaven. It doesn't make sense to kids if you tell them how great heaven is and then sob with grief. It barely makes sense to adults. This was a celebration of Devon's life -- not his death. It made sense at the time. I just wish the jury could have seen the rest of the tape. Then maybe they would have understood." The "rest of the tape" indeed captures a tearful, heartbroken mother lost in grief and confusion, unable to maintain her composure. She had a point.

Darlie is reluctant to think about being exonerated. She has had her "hopes dashed too many times." Throughout this adversity she has received many promises of help, promises made in haste and never kept. If she is ever released she promises, "I will never shut up about my ordeal and what I have experienced first hand in here. I will spend the rest of my life trying to help the other innocent people left inside." I suspect this promise has been well thought out. There is a resonating ring of sincerity about it.

What happened to the "self-absorbed, materialistic, cold-blooded housewife" the prosecution and media told me I would meet?

Darlie spends twenty-three hours each day, seven days a week, locked up in a 6 x 9 cell. Reading has become her main source of escape and she devotes endless hours to answering some of the 200 or so letters she receives each week. Surprisingly, she receives little hate mail. "Maybe there was more in the beginning but now most of the mail I get is supportive and encouraging. Just ordinary people from all over the world offering a kind word and their friendship. It means a lot to me. I try to answer every single one of them personally." She laughs out loud as she tells me about one of her favorite "hate" letters." This woman wrote to me and started the letter out by saying, 'Dear Darlie, I am a devout Christian and I think you are a murdering slut." I joined in the laughter. The moment is light and I catch a momentary glimpse of her finely tuned, keen sense of humor. "You have to have a sense of humor in this place or you will go crazy," she explains.

The other most important thing that keeps Darlie grounded is her faith in God. She states with quiet confidence, "I know there is some divine plan at work here. I just don't know what it is. Some days I ask God, 'Why did this have to happen to me and my boys?' Other days, I just accept it. It is God's love that has helped me survive the pain of losing my boys...and the night that everything changed. Someday I hope I will understand it all. Right now I just have to hold onto my faith. It isn't always easy." She tugs at her cross and sighs. I suspect it is the subtle sigh of resignation coming from a person who has not had many people believe her in the past three years. "I know everyone in prison says stuff like that, but in a lot of cases, it happens to be true."

She leaves me with no reason to doubt her.

By the time our visit was brought to an abrupt end by a prison guard clanging her keys, I suspected I would never be able to view my life in quite the same way. I sat there alone for a few minutes, trying to absorb some of what had just transpired. Tears ran down my cheek when I realized that while Darlie Routier was able to change my life profoundly, there was very little I could do to change hers.

Isn't it ironic? I visited Darlie Routier, convicted "cold-blooded killer," and I left having received more than I could ever give.

Three days later I was back in Michigan and immersed in my own family life. I was lying on the couch watching a movie while my husband slept downstairs at the other end of the house. My ten year-old son, Joey, came in dragging his sleeping bag behind him and placed it on the floor beside me. We turned on the Disney channel and snuggled together for a few moments when it struck me -- Darlie had a moment exactly like this just three years ago! Within hours it was shattered and her life would never be the same. It was just as she told me. It could have been me or you, but it was Darlie -- her happy, normal family torn apart at the seams in an instant.

I watched my son as he drifted off to sleep, happy and content. And I held him just a little bit tighter. I thought of Darlie with gratitude.

Lest any reader misinterpret my words, I do not feel sorry for Darlie Routier. I am sad that her beautiful boys are gone and I deplore the system that has made a victim into a criminal but the Darlie I met, the woman beneath the "hype," is confident with the truth, solid in her faith, and she courageously accepts her uncertain fate with love, forgiveness, and dignity. In spite of her frightening and grim circumstances, she seems to embody the very qualities that many in the free world still strive to attain. I have reflected on my meeting with Darlie countless times in the past few weeks. It was not my intention to become involved in any way other than as a journalist who is committed to justice. Now that is impossible. I feel a kindred spirit with her and every single one of my instincts (and the evidence!) tells me that the night of June 6, 1996 and the aftermath, happened exactly the way she explained it.

Was she being straightforward and completely honest with me? I say "absolutely." You can decide for yourself. Afterword: As my editor told you, I am now an advocate for Darlie's innocence. You may question my objectivity, however, I can say that I went into the interview with no firm position on her guilt or innocence. I followed my instincts. I reported on what I observed. I viewed hundreds of crime scene photos. I sat through one of her hearings. I spoke with the prosecutors. I even gave them a chance to offer their insights (The only statement they would make was said with annoyance and anger. "We feel good about what we are doing.") I spoke with Darin Routier, Darlie's mother, Darlie Kee, and various friends and supporters. I read numerous articles. I walked away from all of it knowing that Darlie Routier is innocent, victimized first by an intruder and a second time by our judicial system. I believe my position is more valid than that of the mainstream media, the prosecution team, and perhaps even the jury (who were not allowed to see all of the evidence). They never once sat down and listened to her. They never once viewed the newly released crime scene photos. They never once examined Darlie from a perspective of possible innocence. It appears they never once thought of anything but newspaper sales and winning. The media used sensationalism. The prosecution used character assassination and hyperbole. Would I be considered more objective if I used those too? I simply sat down with Darlie and talked with her for several hours. I listened carefully and wrote down exactly what I heard and experienced. I was only searching for the truth; I had no vested interests in the results.