Routier gets another prominent attorney

Lawyer handling death row appeal helped to defend McVeigh


By ROBERT THARP / The Dallas Morning News

For a prison inmate so broke that she can't pay legal fees, convicted child-killer Darlie Routier has an impressive cast of attorneys working on her appeals.

On Friday in Dallas, state District Judge Robert Francis appointed respected death-penalty defense lawyer Richard Burr of Houston to take the place of attorney Steven Losch, who died in May.

Mr. Burr is working on the writ of habeas corpus appeal for the Rowlett woman based on information not addressed in her 1997 trial. He joins J. Stephen Cooper, who handled her direct appeal.

Aiding them are attorneys from the Washington-based law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher. That firm, which counts the Bush family among its high-profile clients, is working free as part of an American Bar Association death-penalty program that provides assistance to indigent death-row defendants.

Mr. Burr has specialized in death-penalty defense since 1979 and is defending seven Texas death row inmates. He also consults with defense attorneys nationwide on federal death-penalty cases.

Mr. Burr gained prominence as a member of the defense team handling the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Mr. McVeigh was executed in June 2001.

In Texas, Mr. Burr represented the high-profile appeal of Gary Graham, a 17-year-old Houston man executed in June 2000 for a 1981 robbery shooting. Critics maintain that the evidence that convicted Mr. Graham was suspect, and the execution became an international cause during President Bush's presidential campaign.

Mr. Burr was appointed in Ms. Routier's case simply because he is among a limited number of qualified attorneys who have agreed to be appointed to such cases, Judge Francis said.

In making the appointment, he stressed that practically all the defense work on Ms. Routier's writ appeal had been performed by Mr. Losch and that all deadlines have come and gone. The Longview resident died in May after medical problems related to two cervical spine surgeries, relatives said.

Name:   Richard Burr
Age:   54
Residence:   Houston
Occupation:   Lawyer since 1979; has specialized in death-penalty defense work. Past clients include Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Mr. Burr is representing seven inmates on death row in Texas and consults with attorneys nationwide on federal death-penalty cases.

Mr. Burr said he agreed to take on the case because he reviewed Mr. Losch's work and thought the appeal was sound. "I would hesitate if I didn't have confidence in the lawyers that preceded me," he said.

Ms. Routier's direct appeal a separate appeal based on allegations of errors in her trial was rejected by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in May.

Ms. Routier was sentenced to death in 1997 for killing her 5-year-old son, Damon. She also was accused of killing her 6-year-old son, Devon. She insists that an intruder stabbed the boys before stabbing her in her Rowlett home.

Ms. Routier was transferred from her Gatesville prison unit for the brief hearing Friday. Wearing a white jail jumpsuit, Ms. Routier told the judge that she supported the plan to appoint Mr. Burr to her case. The judge declared her indigent and appointed Mr. Burr.

Ms. Routier's husband, mother, other relatives and supporters attended the hearing.

Her husband, Darin, said that the loss in May of the direct appeal that contended trial transcript errors was a blow but that Ms. Routier and others remain hopeful. He also said he and other supporters are glad to add Mr. Burr to the legal team.

"It's sad that Losch is gone, but maybe it's best for her case," he said.

The 130-page writ filed by Mr. Losch in July 2002 challenges her conviction and seeks a new trial based on allegations of ethical conflicts by her defense attorney. Mr. Routier maintains that he hired the attorney under an agreement that the defense would not point to him as a suspect.

The appeal also argues that prosecutors withheld valuable information and that the jury did not see evidence that might have influenced them not to condemn her to death. The writ is under review by Judge Francis, who is expected to rule this year.

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Routier said he is not troubled that the appeal is focusing suspicion on him. He and his surviving son, 7-year-old Drake, recently moved to Lubbock, where Mr. Routier is working at a machine shop.

"It's not up to me," he said. "The strategy has already been put in place."