Routier court reporter refuses to testify
Transcript to be checked; inaccuracies could force new murder trial

11/20/98 By Michael Saul / The Dallas Morning News

The court reporter in the Darlie Routier capital murder trial refused Thursday to answer questions about the transcript she prepared - a voluminous document that attorneys on both sides say may be flawed.

"Today, I choose to assert the Fifth Amendment" right against self-incrimination, Sandra M. Halsey said with a brief smile toward Ms. Routier.

State District Judge Robert W. Francis said he will order an independent court reporter to verify the transcript's accuracy. If that reporter is unable to substantiate the accuracy of the record, attorneys on both sides say Ms. Routier's conviction probably would be overturned.

"If the court reporter cannot provide a certified record, there is no doubt about it, the conviction is in jeopardy," said Norman Kinne, Dallas County first assistant district attorney.

Ms. Routier, 28, was sentenced to death last year after a Kerr County jury convicted her of capital murder in the June 6, 1996, stabbing death of her 5-year-old son, Damon. His brother, Devon, 6, also was killed in the attack.

Ms. Routier returned from death row to the Lew Sterrett Justice Center last month for a series of hearings on the accuracy of her trial transcript.

Prosecutors said they are considering charging Ms. Halsey with perjury for apparently misleading the court about the existence of audiotapes.

Ms. Halsey told Judge Francis last month under oath that audio recordings of the trial did not exist. The recordings, however, do exist and were handed over to the court last week.

Ms. Halsey's attorney, George R. Milner, said his client denies perjuring herself. He said Thursday that he could not offer an explanation for his client's testimony. Prosecutors and Ms. Routier's defense attorneys said they believe Ms. Halsey spoke falsely under oath.

One of Ms. Routier's appellate attorneys said Ms. Halsey lied about the existence of the tapes as part of a cover-up.

"I do believe that the motivation for all of this, the reason that Ms. Halsey lied about the existence of the tapes, is because she believed that there was an error in the record, a reversible error, that would be exposed and that would be her fault," said Steven Losch, Ms. Routier's attorney.

Mr. Losch said he is concerned that there may be "pervasive" problems with the accuracy of the record. Prosecutors concede that jurors might have received inaccurate information from Ms. Halsey when she read back portions of testimony during their deliberations. But prosecutors have said they believe the inaccuracies were minor and that Ms. Routier received a fair trial.

Dallas County taxpayers paid Ms. Halsey $63,000 for the transcript. The independent court reporter who will be appointed to check her work will be paid $50 per hour. Judge Francis said during Thursday's hearing that he would like the review completed within 45 days but would grant an extension if necessary.

Ms. Halsey's attorney said his client is "very upset, very disturbed, very anxious [and] very despondent" but stands by her work.

"Her feeling . . . is that once an independent reporter has reviewed the record, it will be a certifiable record for appellate purposes," Mr. Milner said.

Mr. Losch said he believes Ms. Halsey has betrayed her profession.

"She has contempt for her oath of office, contempt for the justice system, contempt for the truth," Mr. Losch said. "One thing we do know is because of this woman's dishonesty, it is not possible . . . to get a complete and accurate record."

Ms. Routier's mother, Darlie Kee, said she was disappointed that Ms. Halsey chose not to testify Thursday.

"If she made a mistake, then you say, 'I made a mistake,' " Ms. Kee said. "If it was such a simple mistake, why didn't she say that? . . . When will we ever get to the bottom of this?"

If Ms. Routier were granted a new trial, Ms. Kee and other family members said they are confident the outcome would be different.

Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis, the lead prosecutor at Ms. Routier's trial, said he is confident a second jury would return a guilty verdict.

"I don't see any reason for a different result," he said. "The facts are still the same facts."