Transcript Discrepancies

11/14/98 By Holly Becka / The Dallas Morning News

A note prepared for the jury in the Darlie Routier capital murder trial does not match the transcript of testimony, and the transcript contained other errors and inconsistencies, officials said Friday.

Stephen Cooper, one of Ms. Routier's appeals attorneys, said he can't say whether the transcript problems, particularly those concerning the note on Darin Routier's testimony, could lead to the conviction being overturned. But, Mr. Cooper said he considers the problems serious enough to warrant a review of the entire transcript.

"When she [the court reporter] prepared what I call the read-back for the jury, pursuant to their question, that came out in one manner," Mr. Cooper said. "And then when that same testimony was transcribed in the appellate record, it is different than what had been read back to the jury."

He said the official court record is more detailed and expansive than what was read back to the jury of Mr. Routier's testimony.

"There were actual phrases and questions left out," he said. "I'll be candid: When you read the two, the gist is the same, but this is not a gist business. . . . If what's taken down is wrong or not accurately reported, it could change the entire case."

Ms. Routier was sentenced to death last year in the stabbing death of her 5-year-old son.

Norman Kinne, Dallas County first assistant district attorney, said that at this point, he doesn't think the inconsistencies in the court record, including in the note to the jury, will threaten the conviction in the case.

"So far, I don't believe that what we're talking about is that serious of an error," he said.

Three court reporters who examined random pages from four volumes of the official court record said they found discrepancies between the court reporter's stenographic notes and the transcript. The three testified Friday at a hearing requested by Ms. Routier's attorneys.

It also was learned Friday that audio recordings of Ms. Routier's trial do exist, despite previous testimony from court reporter Sandra Halsey that there were none. The tapes could make it easier to determine if the transcript is in error.

Prosecutors told state District Judge Robert Francis that on Thursday night they retrieved what are believed to be the trial's audio recordings from Ms. Halsey's personal storage facility in Plano.

The three court reporters who reviewed transcript portions testified Friday that Ms. Halsey also had told them that no recordings existed.

The hearing was put on hold Friday after Ms. Halsey was called to the stand. Judge Francis informed Ms. Halsey of her rights and appointed her an attorney, who requested a continuance until Monday.

Mr. Kinne said Ms. Halsey could recant her testimony to avoid possible perjury charges, he said.

"I assume she will have an explanation for this Monday," he said. "We're waiting now to hear her explanation of this contradiction."

Ms. Halsey, who is not employed by the district attorney's office, may face disciplinary action from the professional organization that licenses court reporters or from state District Judge Faith Johnson, for whom she works.

"We don't expect court reporters who are involved in the legal system and in court on a daily basis to get up and say things under oath that are not true," Mr. Kinne said.

He and Mr. Cooper said they couldn't remember another time when such a thing had happened.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin issued a contempt judgment against Ms. Halsey earlier this year for failing to finish the Routier transcript on time.

Ms. Halsey had said the delays were caused by the family emergencies of two assistants and by conflicting instructions from the court.

Mr. Kinne said it's not clear what effect the apparent mistakes in the Routier transcript would have on other cases in which Ms. Halsey has been the court reporter.

"We're more concerned right now with this case," he said. "It's probably going to require a review of the entire record to guarantee its authenticity. Then we'll worry about what happens to any other cases she's a court reporter in."