Ryan’s words

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

Below I am posting the second guest blog, written by Ryan Holle, that gives a little insight into the basics of prison life.

<———————-> <———————->

Thinking about what next to write about is not easy. Being raised by my mom, having my grandparents and other relatives around me, the one thing that they taught me – especially my mom – is what it means to be independent. Can you imagine a woman practically raising two children by herself and trying not to be dependent on others? She did awesome and I will always be grateful for her and my family in my life.

When I graduated high school, I left home at 17 and began my independence. I maintained that and prided myself on the fact that I was able to do so. When I got locked up I lost that. In prison there are no paying jobs – not to any great extent in Florida anyway. At the prison I was last at, on a compound of over 1,200 people, there were a handful of paying jobs. If you were lucky enough to be one of the five canteen operators or the one staff barber then you were able to make something. If you don’t have anyone out on the street to help you, you are out of luck.

Some people steal to make it by. Some tattoo, some deal in drugs, etc. That is just the nature of prison. In prison they give you three pairs of blues (that’s your uniform), three shirts, three boxers, three socks, two towels, two wash clothes, and a pair of what everyone nicknames “Bo-Bo’s”. They are the flat bottom slip-ons with elastic on both sides. Besides that, they give you two rolls of toilet paper a week, one bar of soap, one toothbrush, and one toothpaste once a month. Everything else in on you. If you want shampoo, deoderant, shower slides, toenail clippers, food items, shoes, etc. – then it is on you to find a way to purchase them.

A lot of people out there would say, “He doesn’t need to buy food items because they give him three meals a day”. But anyone familiar with prison food would find that statement very untrue. Being an independent person and calling home and asking for help is never easy. I am always grateful for the help I do get because like I tell my family, “You help me survive.”

Ryan Holle

In Ryan’s words

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

This is the first guest blog I have hosted on here and I am really excited about it. I recently wrote about some of the people who have been sacrificing some of the last bit of privacy they have retained while incarcerated so that they can share their experiences with others. I feel that if more people did this it would be hard to ignore the problems that plague our justice system – mainly because it would become apparent that those who have suffered various forms of injustice are people, just like those reading the blogs that they write. Some have been wrongfully convicted, some have been overcharged, and some are guilty of their crimes but remorseful.

I approached Ryan Holle about writing a blog post. I have written about Ryan’s case a few times – most recently here. Also I maintain a website for his case here. I wasn’t sure if he would be interested or not, but I hoped that he would. That said, the following was written by Ryan:


You know when I was asked to write for this blog my mind went a little scatterbrain. I mean seriously, I’m sitting in a 8′ by 12″ cell on a mat that is like 3″ thick and a light that is just enough to write with. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do the whole “woe is me” stuff. That train of thought will get you absolutely nowhere. Of course I never thought I would spend my 30th birthday and almost 10 years incarcerated either. I have hope though and that is what keeps me going.

You know it’s sad and hopefully it doesn’t make me sound crazy but even though I’m here I’m just thankful to be alive. I made a lot of poor decisions before I was incarcerated. It’s amazing how you can become so wrapped up in just what matters to you that you don’t see how your actions affect those that care for you. How can you adequately describe what it feels like to lose everything including your freedom?

If you have never been incarcerated then I pray that you never do. I could sit here and tell you everything that you have to go through but I’m not because that would just be a biased opinion from my perspective. I can tell you that it has been a crazy journey. On the day I was convicted a deputy who was escorting me back to the county jail after I just got a natural life sentence asked me if he could share some advice with me. As an inmate, trust me there are very few guards/police that care at all. He told me, “Don’t become an animal.” I have taken that to heart. I refuse to let prison dictate the person that I am.

I have learned a lot from being and try to be someone my family can be proud of. I really believe that you can do that even from in here. I have never been a writer besides in letters to family and friends. So, I hope you will excuse my poor penmanship. If there is one thing I could say it’s, “Be thankful for your freedom and cherish it.”

People tell me a lot that they can’t believe that I have been incarcerated for nearly 10 years and have an upbeat attitude. They are surprised that I smile a lot. In my mind this is just a part of the journey that is my life and I believe with all my heart that one day I will be free!!

The first page of Ryan Holle's guest blog.

Page one

Page two

Page two

What will it take to free Ryan Holle?

Ryan with his parents during a June visit

Ryan with his parents during a June visit

Ryan Holle was convicted of felony murder in 2004. He did not participate in the murder or the burglary that precipitated it, but because he loaned his car to a roommate and it was used by those who perpetrated the crime, Ryan experienced the same consequence as those directly involved: life without any possibility of parole.

I have told Ryan’s story previously, but it is one I am particularly compelled to repeat because of the gross injustice this man has experienced. When I first learned about Ryan’s predicament I had a hard time believing it. I kept thinking there had to be something about his story I was missing. I first thought that perhaps he had a prior criminal history that prompted the prosecutor to come down harder on him. Upon learning this was not true I felt I should reach out to Ryan to learn about him as a person and try to understand the extreme sentence he was given.

Ryan was convicted under the Felony Murder Rule. This law exists in the majority of states in some capacity. Typically, states like Florida use this rule to hold anyone deemed as a participant in a crime equally culpable. The name of this law reflects the fact that it may be applied when a death occurs during the commission of a homicide. The sentencing is as severe as if the person committed first degree murder, even in cases where the resulting death was an unintended consequence of the felony component of the crime.

Some claim this rule is fair and is intended to act as a deterrent, but the truth is it does not deter crime because many people have no idea what felony murder is or how it works.

Just this month, five teenagers in Indiana allegedly broke into a home during the evening hours. The homeowner, upon hearing the commotion, grabbed his gun. He fired many shots, killing one of the intruders and wounding 16 year-old Blake Layman. As shots rang into the air, the teenagers scrambled to escape. One was so frightened by the man and his gun he jumped through a window to get away.

All of the surviving teenagers are being charged with felony murder. The prosecutor, Curtis Hill, is justifying this charge (which exposes these teens to life without parole sentences per the state’s statutes) by claiming he needs to use this case as an example. He is doing this as though the loss of one young man’s life is not a salient enough wake up call.

That is not to say there should be no additional consequence at all. Blake Laymon has no prior record. He made a very poor decision when he accompanied the group to the home, but should he receive a life without parole sentence because the homeowner shot and killed a member of the group? Absolutely not.

The prosecutor in the above case has the ability to charge the teenagers appropriately – without seeking an egregious sentence that will not deter future crime (it hasn’t so far in the many states this rule is applied in). Whatever happened to charging people with the crime they actually committed? I hear they do this in some countries, but it is a concept that is completely foreign to me since I live in the United States.

Three states have deemed the felony murder rule completely unconstitutional. Some may support the above prosecutor’s decision, but people who have teenagers or care about the welfare of teenagers in general, are going to find this decision hard to comprehend. It also sets a dangerous precedent for prosecutors throughout Indiana, and in states where this kind of charge is allowed.

Ryan as a child, with his family

Ryan as a child, with his family

But back to Ryan.

I spoke to Ryan about sharing his story in more detail with others and he said that was something he wanted to do. He began by explaining the Felony Murder Rule and how it works in Florida. He then said, “In my case, I was sleeping after a house party, hungover…I overheard talking about going over to Jessica’s house (the victim) and talk about robbing her. They were laughing, but at the same time they talked about getting food. I never took it serious because the guy living with me at the time, William Allen, dated her on and off.” The discussion about getting food threw him off as well.

Believing his roommate was not serious about stealing from Jessica, and only intended to use the car  to get food, Ryan gave him his car keys. He had loaned his car to the roommate without incident in the past and so he did not have any reason to believe this time would be different.

“Due to the fact that I heard that conversation and gave the keys to my car, under the Felony Murder Rule, I am just as guilty as the guy who committed the murder.” He added that the night before Jessica had been at his house.

I asked Ryan what his reaction was to being arrested and charged with felony murder. “I was stunned,” he answered. “From the start I cooperated with investigators and told them all I knew, not knowing that they were treating me as a suspect. I wasn’t even arrested for almost a month after the crime happened. It was literally out of the blue that I was being arrested”.

He then talked about the method the investigators used to arrest him. “On the day I was arrested, I got a phone call telling me that my car (which was driven by the four men to commit the crime) was ready to be picked up from the county impound. When I got there the investigator, Jimmy Sanderson, told me that he wanted to talk to me for a minute”.

The investigator took him to an  interrogation room and asked Ryan to sit down. The investigator also sat down and then another detective came into the room. He said, “We think you had something more to do with it…we are arresting you on an open count of murder”.

Ryan said he never believed that it would all lead to him being convicted and sentenced to life without parole. “I’ve been incarcerated for almost ten years,” he said to me. “I’m 29 years old and have a life sentence, without the possibility of parole”.

On November 17, Ryan will turn 30 in prison. Nearly a decade of his life will have passed in that environment.

Before his arrest in 2003

Before his arrest (which happened in 2003)

I asked Ryan about his life at the time all of this took place. I was curious about what was happening when his life was suddenly and irreparably interrupted by these events, and the fateful decision that he made while he was still intoxicated from the house party earlier in the evening.

“My life at the time was to be honest, chaotic.” He added, “I had recently lost my job as a delivery driver for an egg company due to the fact I suffered some muscle damage around my right eye in a car accident.” He explained that he was renting a place with a couple of his friends and his sister.

“I had recently split with a long-time girlfriend who helped me in more areas than I realized. I was actually trying to attend college,” he said. “I wanted to go back to school to become a software engineer. I’ve always been a fan of video games and I wanted to be a part of that industry.”

I wanted to know what Ryan’s first year in prison was like. He said that it was “like all my years…hard. There is no feeling like having freedom taken away from you. I’ve always been able to provide for myself, but when you’re incarcerated you have to rely on others. Granted, I would rather have someone to rely on than no one at all.”

“Imagine being 20 years old,” he said, “and being thrust into an environment where not only are you oppressed by guards, but surrounded by people that don’t care anything about you.”

He said that experience forced him to grow up quickly. “I could sit here and curse, mope, and moan about my situation. It still doesn’t change the fact that I’m here.” Since I first began writing to Ryan he informed me, repeatedly, that he has a strong desire to find ways to better himself – even though he is in prison and his options are limited. He has said this to me in light of the fact that his sentence prohibits his eventual release.

“I can still grow as a person even in this environment,” he explained to me. “I used to be real self-centered in a lot of ways until my first visit in prison where my mom and stepfather told me how my attitude had effected not only them, but my friends and family. That hit me hard. I want to be someone that my family can be proud of, even if I’m here.”

Ryan as a child

Ryan as a child

Whoever Ryan used to be many years ago, he is a different person now. He is funny – with a sense of humor that has probably helped him cope during some of the harder times in prison. He is intelligent and thoughtful as well. We have discussed everything from movies to the problems with the justice system as we perceive them.

Ryan describes himself as an easy-going person “who likes to smile and make others smile.” He says that he is also passionate about his family.

“My views of the justice system have changed,” he informed me. “It’s real easy to believe in it when you have never been a part of it.” Ryan’s arrest and subsequent conviction was a wake up call to him of the worse kind.

I can relate to this because if someone had asked me when I was 20 years-old if the justice system was fair I would have answered that it was. I had no real concept of wrongful convictions or excessive sentencing practices. My views have changed dramatically as well.

Ryan recounted something that happened just before his trial that could have changed his fate. “Prior to the trial I was offered a plea deal of second degree murder and ten years. My lawyer told me not to take it because there was no way I would be convicted. The state attorney offered me that plea deal because he stated that he didn’t believe I was as culpable as my co-defendants. Yet under the Felony Murder Rule I got natural life”. This has weighed heavily on Ryan. “In hindsight, should I have taken the plea deal considering the severity of the felony murder rule? Absolutely. I actually would have gone home last October if I would have.”

An additional challenge for Ryan has been learning to understand the courts and justice system. “As a pro-se litigant I have had to learn how to research and do my own motions to the courts. The courts give deadlines on filing certain motions. What it takes a lawyer 8-plus years to learn, an inmate has to learn in less than two. I am currently in the federal courts yet my Federal Habeas Corpus petition may not be heard because my appellate counsel advised me about the deadline and he was mistaken. Due to that fact my petition may never be heard. Even though I have a legitimate claim”.

Ryan is keeping himself busy by seeking educational opportunities within the prison. Recently he passed a test that has allowed him to become involved in a vocational training program. He started the program this week.

The sad part is that Ryan’s case is one of too many. In 2010, Charles Grodin wrote a letter to the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He has spoken out about the Felony Murder Rule, citing Ryan’s case as an example of how it is unjust. In his letter, he wrote, “Last year I met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the felony murder rule, which is felt by many to be the most heinous piece of legislation we have in America. Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, currently the President of the Governor’s Association is very supportive, as is Orrin Hatch”.

Grodin ended his letter by stating, “We represent five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. As Senator Webb recently said so eloquently, ‘We are either the most evil people on the earth, or there’s something wrong with our justice system.’ I don’t believe we’re the most evil people on earth,” he concluded.

Ryan’s case is a travesty of justice. This man does not belong in prison. He has much to offer society and he is willing to work hard and pave his own way. However, to get this kind of chance he’s at the mercy of those in a position of power who have the authority to help him. One of those people is the governor of Florida, Rick Scott. If Ryan’s situation has outraged you, or even seems unfair, please take a moment to let the governor know your thoughts by clicking here.

You may also take a moment to sign a petition started by Floridian John Hart. John learned of Ryan’s case and felt compelled to do something to try to help. Over 1,300 people have signed the petition on behalf of Ryan:


The petition has given Ryan a renewed sense of hope in that he now knows there are people out there who see this injustice for what it is and feel he should be released.

Ryan is grateful for any help and support he can get. If you would like to write a letter of support to Ryan, please use the following address:

Ryan Holle 0-126321/B4-2130
Graceville Correctional Facility
5168 Ezell Road
Graceville, FL 32440

Learn more about Ryan’s case and others by visiting my site at ryanholle.com.

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: The subjective science (part 2)

Tim Masters at 15

Tim Masters at 15

Two years after providing testimony on behalf of the prosecution at Darlie Routier’s 1997 trial, bloodstain pattern analyst Tom Bevel was involved in a case where the accused was arrested, convicted, denied multiple appeals, and then granted a retrial that resulted in his release from prison three decades after the original crime occurred. The man’s name is Tim Masters and he was only 15 years old when 37 year-old Peggy Hettrick was murdered in Fort Collins, Colorado.

In February of 1987, Peggy ended her shift at work around 9 p.m. at a local clothing store. She had acquired a temporary roommate and she had given her the only key she had. Her roommate had gotten drunk and passed out, oblivious to Peggy’s banging on the door. Upon realizing she was locked out of her residence, Peggy went to a couple of bars and then returned home to get her key from the roommate. She changed her clothes and then returned to one of the bars just before midnight. Peggy did not have a vehicle and so she relied on walking or obtaining rides from others.

At the time of Peggy’s murder she was seeing a man named Matt Zoellner. On the evening in question, Peggy and Zoellner had an argument when she spotted him at the Prime Minister Pub with another woman. She became extremely upset and left. This was the last time anyone reported seeing Peggy alive before her partially nude body was discovered the following morning by a person riding a bike. She was found near a curb that led into a field, with her breasts exposed, her jeans and panties pulled down to her knees, and the straps of her purse still twisted around her arm. She had been stabbed and mutilated.

The Investigation

At the time Peggy was found in the field, 15 year-old Tim lived with his father in a trailer. The residence sat atop a hill that overlooked the field. During a routine canvassing of the surrounding area, detective Linda Wheeler-Holloway, was informed by Tim’s father that he had observed his son go toward the area where Peggy’s body was found as he was walking to school that morning. The detective had Tim pulled out of class and learned that he had indeed seen the woman’s body, but he did not think it was a real person. He thought that it resembled the dolls his school used to teach CPR courses. During Tim’s bus ride to school, he told the detective he started to wonder if he had seen a body instead of a doll.

The following day, two detectives showed up at Tim’s home while he was in school. One of the detectives was Jim Broderick. They asked Tim’s father to sign a consent to allow them to search the property. Believing that neither he nor his son had anything to hide, Clyde signed the form and allowed the detectives to conduct a search. The detectives found a number of knives in Tim’s bedroom. The detectives also found notebooks containing stories and drawings that Broderick described in a report as dealing “with death and dismemberment of body parts and other graphic portrayals of people being killed and the narratives [that] describe it.”

Tim was a withdrawn teenager who used his narratives and drawings as a means of escaping. He was small, shy, and struggling with school. Though he was not violent, he enjoyed creating pictures that focused on themes such as monsters and war. He had an interest in the armed forces and liked to read about those kinds of topics.

Ordinarily a murder investigation begins with those closest to the victim and spans outwards. This was not exactly what detectives did while investigating Peggy’s murder. The police learned about her somewhat tumultuous relationship with Matt Zoellner early on. Zoellner told police that he had run into Peggy at the Prime Minister and offered her a ride home. He had been waiting for another woman at the time. He claimed to have offered Peggy a ride home but when he returned from using the restroom she was gone.

Detectives were less concerned with Zoellner and much more interested in Tim. They questioned him at length, insisting he committed the murder. Tim repeatedly informed the detectives that he was not involved. His father had signed a form that allowed police to interrogate his son for nine hours. Tim adamantly maintained his innocence, despite the use of a wide range of tactics used by the officers attempting to extract a confession.

The police had no physical evidence linking Tim to Peggy’s murder. They did not have a confession or even an eyewitness claiming he was involved. All the police had were the drawings and writings of a sullen teenager who was trying to find his place in what he probably perceived as an unwelcoming environment.

A year after the murder, a large team of police officers participated in a stake out of his residence. They even went so far as to follow him incessantly and plant a false story in the news, suggesting an arrest of a suspect was imminent. The police left copies of this story in places where Tim was sure to see them.

Police in Fort Collins were unable to make a convincing case against Tim with the evidence they had. As a result, Tim went on to graduate from high school and joined the Navy. As Tim attempted to go on with his life, one of the detectives originally involved with investigating Peggy’s murder made the decision to re-open the case.

Detective Wheeler-Holloway zeroed in on Tim once again in 1992 based on supposed new evidence involving something Tim had told a friend at his high school. When questioned about it, Tim told the police that he got the information from a classmate who had been involved in the police effort to search the field. Tim’s claims were verified. The detectives did not pursue charges as a result.

However, by 1995 Jim Broderick had been promoted to the position of supervisor. He was in charge of the Crimes Against Persons Unit at the local police department. He made the decision to refocus his efforts on the seemingly cold case involving Peggy Hettrick. Broderick still insisted Tim Masters committed the murder. One of the detectives on Broderick’s squad, Troy Krenning, did not share his supervisor’s belief that Tim committed the murder. Krenning felt that elements of the murder appeared to be too well executed for a skinny and unsophisticated 15 year-old boy.

Broderick eventually hired a forensic psychologist, Reid Meloy, at the rate of $300 per hour to analyze Tim’s writings and drawings. Meloy eventually earned more than $42,000. The psychologist indicated that Tim had murdered Peggy Hettrick as a means of committing a displaced matricide (the murder of one’s mother or a mother figure).

District Attorney Terry Gilmore was not as confident about the strength of the alleged evidence against Tim; however, Broderick took special care to convince him and assistant district attorney Jolene Blair that they were on the right path.

On August 10th of 1998, Tim was arrested for Peggy’s murder. Tim had been living in California. Following an honorable discharge from the Navy he lived an ordinary life working as an aircraft mechanic.

Enter Tom Bevel

The district attorney did not have physical evidence to present at Tim’s 1999 trial. It wasn’t that physical evidence did not exist in the case; it was that the physical evidence in the case did not match the accused. An important element of the case against Tim was convincing a jury that the murder happened in the general area where Peggy’s body was found. After all, Tim had been a thin 15 year-old teenager when the murder occurred.

The prosecution called Tom Bevel to provide expert testimony. Bevel informed the jury that he believed Peggy was murdered on Landings Drive and then either dragged or carried to the location where she was found the following morning. This testimony was critical in securing a conviction against Tim. If the jury had been presented with evidence that Peggy had been murdered somewhere else and then later dumped in the field it would have become much harder to make the argument a 15 year-old boy, who still rode the bus to school, committed the crime.

Tim was convicted of Peggy’s murder and sent to prison.

Bevel would later claim that he provided the testimony he did because he was not shown all of the necessary documentation and photographs to make a correct assessment of the crime scene. In 2005, Barie Goetz who headed the crime lab at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, contacted Bevel. He showed him reports and photographs that Bevel claimed he had never seen before.

Bevel made the decision to write a report for Tim’s defense, stating that he had “serious concerns” about the evidence – or lack of it – he received prior to giving testimony. After reviewing the information Goetz provided to him, Bevel reversed his original claim that Peggy had been murdered and mutilated in the field. He said, “I do not believe all of that did take place at that juncture”.

CNN reported in 2008 that Bevel claimed “he has never experienced a miscommunication of this level in more than 35 years of testifying as an expert and as an Oklahoma City police officer, but he was reluctant to say police deceived him.” But in all honestly, how can he even be sure he has never experienced another “miscommunication of this level”?

Bevel’s claim not to have received all of the pertinent information relating to the case was a problem experienced by Tim’s defense as well. This poses even bigger questions about other convictions Bevel has helped prosecutors achieve. How many other cases did Bevel, or any other bloodstain pattern analyst for that matter, work on where importance evidence in the form of reports and photographs were suppressed by the prosecution or investigators?

And what reports and photographs was Bevel missing? Was it not apparent to him that he had not received a complete record as it pertained to the case? Did he at any time have any concerns about the information provided to him? Those are questions I can’t find answers to.

I do know that the alleged science, known as bloodstain pattern analysis, seems to rely entirely on the honesty and accuracy of the police investigation. It also relies on the credibility and integrity of the prosecutors as well. If the police and prosecutors only provide limited information to the experts they ask to testify is it really that surprising that people are wrongfully convicted? Another disturbing aspect of wrongful convictions is that they ensure those who perpetrated the crimes are free to commit future ones

The DNA Evidence

In 2007, Tim’s defense conducted testing of the clothing found on Peggy Hettrick. The testing revolved around an innovative and advanced approach to DNA testing known simply as “Tough DNA”. Selma and Richard Eikelenboom, forensic scientists in the Netherlands, were approached by Tim’s defense and asked to try to create a DNA profile based on skin cells left on Peggy’s clothing.

The couple was successful in obtaining a full DNA profile of a male. Skin cells removed from the cuffs of Peggy’s blouse suggested she may have been carried or dragged by the wrists. The same DNA profile was found on the lining of Peggy’s underwear, which had been pulled down to her knees.

The DNA did not match Tim Masters, however. Instead it matched Matt Zoellner, the boyfriend Peggy had encountered at the Prime Minister the night she was murdered.

Tim Masters after his release

Tim Masters after his release

His Release

In 2008, Tim’s sentence was finally overturned. A judge threw out the original conviction based on the evidence that was presented in support of his innocence. He was subsequently released from prison. Following his release from prison, Tim Master’s brought a civil lawsuit against the city of Fort Collins. He reportedly received $10 million as a result of settlement.

These days Tim spends time doing things he enjoys, such as working on cars. He wrote and published a book called Drawn to Injustice: The Wrongful Conviction of Timothy Masters with co-author Steve Lehto. The book details his case and the barriers Tim faced in finally obtaining a new trial. He has also spoken out about his conviction.

In 2011, Tim joined a panel of speakers at the Colorado University Law School to discuss being incarcerated, his wrongful conviction, and the challenges people face when it becomes necessary to prove innocence.

I decided to write about Tim’s case for three reasons. First, his conviction was achieved through the presentation of a highly circumstantial case. The police made a rush to judgment and refused to consider other possibilities. These same behaviors have contributed to other wrongful convictions and have also played a role in suspected wrongful convictions.

Second, Tim was convicted based on expert testimony provided by Tom Bevel. Bevel’s name comes up in relation to a number of confirmed and suspected wrongful convictions. This same expert was responsible for helping police and prosecutors obtain a conviction in Darlie’s case as well. Not only has the science Bevel has relied on come under fire in recent years, but cases like Tim’s raise questions about the communication process that occurs between these experts and prosecutors.

Finally, Tim’s case is an example of how dangerous circumstantial evidence is in a murder case. Had police and prosecutors followed the physical evidence in this situation – even if it meant waiting for years until the technology became available to analyze it properly – they could have saved the city a lot of time and money. They might have apprehended the real killer. Most importantly, they might have given those who cared about Peggy a true sense of justice.

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: The subjective science (part 1)

Example of a t-shirt with blood-spatter

The prosecution’s case against Darlie Routier, presented in court in 1997, was based on circumstantial evidence. Lacking true and convincing physical evidence directly linking Darlie to the murders of her two sons as well as the attack inflicted on herself, the prosecution focused on an approach to crime scene analysis that the National Academy of Sciences has stated is “more subjective than scientific”. That approach is known as bloodstain pattern analysis.

In 2010, the Texas Observer pointed out that three confirmed wrongful convictions had resulted from “flawed blood-spatter evidence”. This says nothing about how many wrongful convictions have taken place as a result of subjective bloodstain pattern analysis that have not yet been confirmed, or have not received the kind of attention that some cases do.

Along with the above information, the Observer published a detailed account of the conviction of Warren Horinek. Horinek was a less than sympathetic individual who was indicted by a grand jury on suspicion he murdered his wife, Bonnie. He claimed his wife committed suicide in the family home on March 14th of 1995, after the two had become severely intoxicated during an earlier night out.

An investigation into the alleged suicide resulted in a shared conclusion on the part of the police sergeant responsible for supervising the investigation, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, the crime scene investigator, and the local district attorney: Horinek’s wife committed suicide using a firearm.

Fort Worth district attorney, Mike Parrish, declined to bring charges against Horinek. He later told the media, “I always thought that it was a suicide…still do.”

Bonnie’s parents did not accept their daughter had taken her own life. Despite a history of depression in the past, they did not believe she was distraught enough during the time period surrounding her death to do something that extreme. Moreover, Horinek has a history of being both obnoxious and sometimes violent when he had too much to drink.

When the district attorney refused to bring charges against Horinek, Bonnie’s parents hired a lawyer who found a way to pursue charges without the assistance of the district attorney. Texas law allows any individual to bring evidence in front of a grand jury to seek an indictment. It is a well known fact that when a grand jury is presented with evidence, it is easy to get an indictment. This case was no exception.

However, the district attorney continued to refuse to prosecute Horinek. He claimed he had an ethical duty to refrain from charging a person with a crime when he believed that person was innocent. As a result, the district attorney’s office in Tarrant County assigned two attorneys working in private practice to fill in as special prosecutors. These attorneys had access to resources the district attorney’s office would not otherwise have had.

Everything was backwards at Horinek’s trial. The people who ordinarily testify on behalf of the prosecution testified on behalf of Horinek’s defense. This included, but was not limited to the sergeant in charge of the investigation, the district attorney who refused to seek charges in the first place, and the crime scene investigator. It was a situation that should only exist within an episode of the Twilight Zone.

For the majority of Horinek’s trial it appeared that he would be acquitted. Even the foreman of the jury would later reveal that an acquittal was imminent.

That is, until Tom Bevel took the stand.

Before Tom Bevel ever testified at Darlie Routier’s trial, he testified at what may only be described as the “bizarre” trial of Warren Horinek. Though bloodstain pattern analysis has been used since the late 1800s, it was and still is rarely used as the primary evidence against a defendant. It is often used to strengthen a case that is already based on physical evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints.

In 1996, when Bevel took the stand to testify that Horinek murdered his wife and that this contention could be confirmed through bloodstain pattern analysis, the National Academy of Sciences was 13 years away from publishing a report that outlined the serious limitations of using this approach to crime scene analysis. The jurors who listened to Bevel found his testimony credible and convincing.

Bevel stated that tiny bloodstains on the shirt Horinek was wearing on the evening of his wife’s death could only have resulted from a “high velocity occurrence”. He claimed the cause of the bloodstains was Horinek’s use of a gun. He argued that Horinek’s repeated attempts to administer CPR were not the cause.

The jury subsequently changed their mind about Horinek’s innocence and convicted him of murdering his wife. They did this based on Tom Bevel’s testimony.

The Observer wrote, “Most criminal justice experts believe that flawed forensic evidence – and overreaching expert witnesses – have sent thousands of Americans to prison for crimes they didn’t commit”. The article went on to state that a number of commonly used sciences presented in United States courtrooms, including bloodstain pattern analysis and arson investigations, are really just “junk sciences”.

Jim Varnon was one of the officers who responded to the scene. He believes that Horinek was wrongfully convicted and has put together extensive evidence countering the bloodstain pattern analysis presented by Bevel. He has been fighting to prove Horinek’s innocence ever since.

Horinek has since tried to appeal his conviction. In late 2011, the Observer provided an update on his case, explaining that there were two hearings in 2011 that occurred in reference to his case. Three forensic experts “testified that overwhelming evidence points to a suicide”.

However, despite this and the fact that Bevel has been involved in other suspected wrongful convictions, including one in which a convicted man was later exonerated, Horinek remains imprisoned in Texas.

There are similarities in the case of Warren Horinek and Darlie Routier. Both cases were based on circumstantial evidence. Both prosecutors presented Tom Bevel’s “expert” testimony regarding bloodstain analysis. Both crime scenes contained evidence that supported the convicted person’s version of the events – claims that Bevel used a science that has substantial limitations to discredit.

The very group that claims Tom Bevel as a charter member known as the Scientific Working Group on Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (SWGSTAIN), “recognizes that the opinions of bloodstain pattern analysts may contain an element of subjectivity”.

Really? In light of this information, one has to ask just how reliable a conviction is when the weight of the prosecution’s case rests on this type of “science”. One also has to wonder just how many people convicted based on this science are truly innocent.

In the next article I will describe the case in which Bevel’s testimony helped to send a juvenile to prison for life, without the possibility of parole. This same teenager grew into a man behind bars, but was exonerated based on an advanced approach to DNA testing.

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: The timeline

The Routier house

The Routier house

As previously discussed, Darlie Routier is on death row in Texas. She has been there for 15 years. She was accused and convicted of murdering her five year old son Damon. She was charged, but never tried, in the death of her oldest son Devon. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting there was a rush to judgment in this case – one that could result in the execution of an innocent woman.

That is, unless something is done to stop it.

The most important consideration in Darlie Routier’s case is the timeline. The prosecution’s case against Darlie was circumstantial, resting entirely on the notion that she staged the crime scene in a very short amount of time to mislead investigators.

In earlier articles we looked at the fingerprint evidence in this case as well as the strange occurrences before, during, and after. This article will focus on the timeline immediately surrounding the murders. The information provided in this timeline description comes from testimony given by the medical examiner, Janis Townsend-Parchman, the first two police officers on the scene, and paramedics who responded to the 911 call. The information can be verified through court transcripts. Darlie’s testimony was not used to support the timeline. Instead, I used the conversation recorded on the 911 tape to verify Darlie’s words and actions, as well as testimony given by others who were present at the time each event occurred.

The 911 call is the basis for the timeline since it was recorded and provides a second-by-second description of what was happening in the Routier home for almost six minutes. Testimony is used to fill in the gaps and provide information about what happened in the minutes after the 911 call ended.

The Timeline

On June 6, 1996, Darin Routier, Darlie’s husband, reported he was asleep in the upstairs bedroom when he was suddenly awakened. Darlie was sleeping on the couch in the family room. Devon, 6, and Damon, 5, were sleeping on the floor in the family room in front of the television. Police would later testify that upon arriving at the scene, the television was still on.

According to the statement Darin gave to the police, he woke up because he “heard a noise and then Darlie screaming loud.” He reportedly ran down the stairs and went into the living room. He spotted Devon on the floor and the coffee table tipped over. He went to Devon and knelt down to investigate whether he was hurt.

Darin testified at trial that upon coming down the stairs, Darlie went straight to the phone and to the kitchen sink to get towels. We will now examine the timeline on a minute-by-minute basis.

2:30 a.m.

Darlie’s call to 911 began with her screaming, “somebody came in!”  She went on to tell the dispatcher that she and her children had been stabbed. Based on a transcript of the 911 call, Darin’s voice is first heard thirty seconds into the call. At the 55 second mark, Darlie asks frantically, “Oh my God…what do we do?” The dispatcher did not respond because she was calling for assistance over the radio.

Darin testified that upon discovering Devon with gashes in his chest, he began to perform CPR. Darin explained that “Darlie was running back and forth from the kitchen, over to Damon, and then she came over to Devon.” When asked what she was doing in the kitchen he answered “getting towels”. He described her as “trying to stop the bleeding” and “trying to hold his chest together,” referring to the couple’s oldest child, Devon.

Officer Waddell was 1.9 miles from the Routier home on 5801 Eagle Drive. Lt. Walling was 3.1 miles from the home. Both received the call regarding the emergency at the Routier home and began driving toward the house. Paramedics were also alerted. This is confirmed through testimony.

2:31 a.m.

One minute and seven seconds into the 911 call, Darlie is heard talking to Damon. She says, “Damon…hold on honey…” She is again heard speaking to Damon one minute and 48 seconds into the call. She said something unintelligible, followed by what sounded like, “…do you want honey…hold on.” The dispatcher responded by stating she could not understand what Darlie was saying. Darlie replied, “I’m talking to my babies…they’re dying…”

Darin can still be heard speaking in the background of the 911 tape.

2:32 a.m.

Two minutes and twenty seconds into the call, Darlie is heard speaking to Damon. She said, “hold on, honey, hold on.” Darin is also heard in the background of the 911 call during this time frame.

2:33 a.m.

In testimony, Darin depicted the arrival of the first officer, David Waddell, on the scene. Darin and Waddell gave slightly different accounts in that Darin implied the officer came to the door, but Waddell testified to seeing Darin in front of the house. Waddell explained the two met in the yard by the fountain and then went into the house.

Waddell’s arrival is confirmed through the 911 recording. Three minutes and 45 seconds into the call, a police officer’s voice is identified. He is heard saying, “…look for a rag…” Darin testified the officer “froze” and stopped moving once he entered the home and observed what had happened there.

Waddell would later testify that he asked Darlie repeatedly to help her son. He would say that each time he asked she refused. This is not supported by the 911 call. Moreover, it is important to note that while Darlie was on the phone she carried on conversations with multiple people, sounding as though she were completely panicked. She is heard speaking to Damon, Darin, the police officer, and the dispatcher throughout the entire call.

In fact, three minutes and 48 seconds into the call, Waddell is heard saying, “…lay down…ok…just sit down.” He had a very short window of time where he could have been asking Darlie – who was herself injured – to render aid to Damon. However, he is not heard doing this. He is instead heard directing Darlie to sit down.

It is unknown exactly why Waddell failed to provide medical aid to Damon upon arriving as he testified the child was alive, moving, gasping for air, and looking around the room. Additionally, Waddell testified that he did not go into the garage where Darlie informed him a person had fled.

His testimony supports Darin’s claim that he stood there in the home, waiting for backup.

2:34 a.m.

Within four minutes into the 911 call, Darlie begins to sound even more desperate. In the span of a minute, she asked the dispatcher twice about the ambulance and when it would arrive at the home. She pleaded to the dispatcher, “…they’re barely breathing…if they don’t get here they’re gonna be dead!”

Darin is heard during this time frame, saying, “they took…they ran…”

Four minutes and 18 seconds into the call, the dispatcher tells Darlie there is a police officer at the front door. Waddell is already in the home at this time because his voice has been identified on the 911 tape during the later part of the third minute. The police officer at the door was likely Lt. Walling because he testified to arriving at the home in around this time frame.

If true, it means that Waddell was in the home for approximately 46 seconds before Walling arrived. During that time, Darlie was still on the phone with 911 and was attempting to provide details to the officer about what happened.

Paramedic Jack Kolbye testified that when he arrived at the home one officer was already there and another was directly behind him. In testimony, the paramedic identified the officer that came right after him as Walling. Kolbye explained that the paramedics waited just under two minutes before going into the home because they were waiting for an officer to secure  the scene.

2:35 a.m.

Darin’s voice is not heard during the remainder of the call. However, Darlie is heard on the 911 tape saying, “Somebody who did it intentionally walked in here and did it, Darin…” This implies that Darin was in the area when she made this statement.

Five minutes and 33 seconds into the call the dispatcher asks if the police officer is there. Darlie says, “yes”. The dispatcher then tells her to to go talk to the officer. The dispatcher does not realize that Darlie has been carrying on multiple conversations at the same time throughout the call.

2:36 a.m.

Walling entered the backyard to secure it, according to his testimony.

2:37 a.m. to 2:38 a.m.

Within this time frame, the paramedics were given the approval to enter the home. Kolbye went straight to Damon. He attended to Damon for two minutes inside of the home before moving him into the ambulance because it was too chaotic in the home. He stated that Damon was still barely alive when he got to him. He testified that Damon gasped for air as he turned him over. While he was with Damon, he observed the light begin to go out of his eyes.

Further Discussion

It is critical to note the activities surrounding the 911 call for two reasons. First, the prosecution claimed that Darlie murdered her two children, cut her neck, cut her arm, tried to clean up in the kitchen, deposited a sock several houses away in the alley way, returned to the home to break a glass, and then screamed for help. Second, the prosecution painted Darlie as a cold-blooded killer who was not the least bit concerned with the welfare of her children.

The 911 call disproves the latter, but what does it say about the staging?

Let’s look at one of the medical examiner’s testimony. Dr. Janis Townsend-Parchman testified at Darlie’s trial. One of the topics she provided an expert opinion on was the length of time Damon Routier could have survived his injuries. Dr. Townsend-Parchman was skeptical Damon would have lived more than a few minutes upon receiving the stab wounds to his back.

Prosecutor Greg Davis asked Dr. Townsend-Parchman to give an estimate of the amount of time she believed Damon could have survived his injuries. She responded, “minutes”. She stated that if all four wounds were inflicted at the same time, or within a very short period of time, he would have died within “minutes”.

She testified that she could not tell exactly how long he would have lived, estimating on several occasions it would be just “minutes”. Defense attorney Mulder asked if it would be less than five minutes and she responded “likely”. She went on to add, “And that, from the time he collapsed, until the time he actually expired, would probably be another few minutes.”

Mulder attempted to ask the doctor to give an exact time frame, asking her if it could be as much as eight or nine minutes. She testified, “You can’t tell.”

On redirect, Davis touched on the length of time Damon could have survived once again. “Can you give us an estimate of how long this child might have live if, say, stab wound 1 had been inflicted and then the other three were inflicted sometime later on?” She responded, “What we’re talking about, a few to several more minutes.”

From the time Darlie began the 911 call, to the time the paramedic stated Damon took his last breath, about eight minutes passed. Remember, Darlie was not on the phone with 911 until after Darin came down the stairs and attended to Devon. It is important to factor the length of time it would have taken for Darin to wake upon hearing a noise and appear in the family room when estimating how much time Darlie had to stage a crime scene.

According to Janis Townsend-Parchman, Darlie had approximately zero to 60 seconds to stage the scene and injure herself. If the maximum amount of time Damon was likely to live is nine minutes, the amount of time spent on the 911 call must be subtracted. Additionally, the nearly two minutes it took for the paramedics to enter the Routier home must be subtracted. Finally, the paramedic testified that Damon was still alive during the two minute time period he provided aid to the child inside the home. The paramedics arrived on the scene five minutes after the call to 911 was made. They waited almost two minutes for the scene to be secured. Damon was still alive during the two minute time frame the paramedic attended to him. This adds up to between eight or nine minutes, depending on the exact moment Damon died in the paramedics care.

Now you have to ask yourself: Did Darlie really have time to do everything the prosecution claimed she did before she made that call to 911?

As previously mentioned, a sock with Devon and Damon’s blood was found several houses away. It was on the ground near a trash can. There was no blood trail near the sock. If Darlie placed it there as the prosecution contended, she had to have done it after the boys were fatally injured and before she slashed her own neck. She would have had to have done this in bare feet, or else she had to take even more time upon arriving back at her home to remove her shoes. If barefoot, she would have taken longer to deposit the sock.

Already we are looking at about a minute of time, but we still have not factored in Darlie’s injuries. How much time would it have taken to injure herself? To break the glass to make it appear as though it had been knocked out of the wine rack by an intruder?

Why not wait until she is absolutely certain both boys are dead before screaming to get Darin’s attention? Damon was alive when police arrived and when the paramedic attended to him. If she stabbed her children, why did she leave an obviously surviving witness?

The fact is, Darlie did not have the amount of time to do everything the prosecution said she did. It simply does not make sense. One need only look at the 911 call and various testimony to figure that out. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of painstaking work to break the timeline down as I have above. Had the jury been able to do that, I have to seriously doubt they would have been able to convict Darlie.

Please take a moment and share these articles with others to help raise awareness about Darlie’s case. The series of articles is located here, along with links to other information and videos.

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: Strange occurrences

Darlie, Darin, Devon, and Damon Routier

Darlie, Darin, Devon, and Damon Routier

It has been said that the prosecution’s case against Texas mother of three, Darlie Lynn Routier, was circumstantial. Darlie is now on death row as a result of her 1997 conviction in connection with the death of her youngest son, Damon. I previously wrote about the fingerprint evidence in Darlie’s case, but I wanted to switch gears a little and discuss some of the strange occurrences surrounding the murders of the Routier children.

Uncovering the truth about what happened during the early morning hours of June 6, 1996 requires one to look at reported occurrences and sightings before, during, and after the crimes took place. Examination of this type of case must extend outside of the family home and reflect an overall picture of the neighborhood as well. Below is a synopsis of some of the events and sightings that reportedly took place.

The Attempted Break In

On June 11 of 1996, Mary Angelia Rickels, known as Angel, contacted the Rowlett Police Department to inform them that during the early morning hours of June 6 an unidentified man attempted to enter her home. The defense called Rickels to testify at Darlie’s trial. She explained that she had been home with her fifteen year old daughter when the incident happened. She was married and also had two other children who were staying with their grandmother at the time. Her husband worked the night shift, leaving the house at 9:30 p.m. and returning the following morning at 9:30 or 10 a.m.

Rickels testified that she was watching television at 1:30 a.m. when a series of strange occurrences took place. At first she heard sounds as though someone were trying to get into the house through a door. Initially, she believed it was her husband who would come home from work periodically to check on her. She had suffered a stroke, a number of heart attacks, and had also recently lost her brother. However, she became suspicious when she heard the sound of wood splitting and a loud cracking noise. This prompted her to turn on the porch light to see what was happening.

In her testimony, she described seeing two men standing outside through a peephole in the door. One was stockier than the other, wearing a knit cap. He had blonde hair sticking out from under the cap. She said he was wearing a dark jogging suit. The other individual was tall and thin. The men ran from the house and headed in the direction of Willowbrook Drive. Willowbrook eventually leads to Eagle Drive where the Routiers lived.

Once the men left, Rickels described feeling as though the incident had passed, but she was still frightened. Rickels explained during testimony that she proceeded to calm her fifteen year old daughter who had also witnessed the events and was scared. They resumed watching television and a short time later heard what sounded like tapping coming from the bedroom window located near the front of the house.

Rickels peered through the blinds and saw that the two men had returned. This time she saw they had a metal object that looked like either a screwdriver or a knife. She turned off the bedroom light and the men left. They did not return again that evening.

Though shaken by the incident, Rickels testified that she did not call police that night to report the incident. She stayed awake the rest of the night. Later on that morning she told her husband. She would go on to relay the story to other family members.

Rickels did not call the police until the 11th. She explained that once the incident took place she did not see a point in calling them. She said the following during trial, “Well, at that time, I was thinking it was — it’s all over, what can the police — what can they do now, you know?”

She also reported seeing a dark vehicle parked outside. She did not recognize the vehicle, but it appeared to remain in the same spot throughout the night. She did not describe seeing anyone getting into or out of the vehicle that night – just that the car was present during the same time frame. A telephone memorandum taken by the Rowlett police stated the vehicle in question belonged to someone living on 8826 Miami Drive.

The bizarre incidents did not stop with the attempted break in, however. In August, Rickels saw what appeared to be the same vehicle as the one she saw the morning of June 6. She stated, “Well, again in August, I saw that car pull out there and, what triggered my memory was that the person that got out of the car was the same build as the stocky guy that I had seen before, and so I ran in and called the police.” The police came to the home and Rickels described them going to the home she pointed out to them and bringing out a “small skinny person” in handcuffs. She said the person they removed from the home was shorter than the one she saw on June 6.

In November, Rickels stated that she had gone out into her garage to smoke a cigarette at about 2:30 to 3 a.m. The garage door was open about a foot. She heard what sounded like shuffling footsteps in the driveway. She then testified to the following: “I was just scared and so I just pulled the door down and stuck a stick in the door so they couldn’t lift it.” She called the police again later on that morning.

No further information was given during testimony about the attempted break-in, the car sighting, or even the police removing an individual in handcuffs from a nearby home.

The report of the break in coincides with the time frame in which Darlie Routier claimed an unknown person entered her home. Rickels described the first incident occurring at about 1:30 a.m. The men left the area and returned at approximately 2 a.m. It was after 2 a.m. that Rickels described seeing the vehicle. These times are estimates, but they occurred before Darlie made a 911 call reporting the stabbing of her two children and the attack on herself. That call took place at 2:30 a.m.

Map showing route from Routier home to Rickels' home.

Map showing route from Routier home to Rickels’ home.

It is important to point out that the Rickels family home was about half a mile from the Routier home. It would take approximately 9 minutes to walk from the home on Miami Drive to where the Routier family lived at 5801 Eagle Drive in Rowlett, Texas. It would take far less time to drive there.

The police noted on the telephone memorandum that the vehicle was a “1989 Ford 2dr.” The make of the car was not given, even though the police provided other details such as a license plate number.

Reported Vehicle and People Sightings

In the time leading up to the crimes, a number of unusual sightings were reported.

On June 6, Sally Bingham reported to police that she was a neighbor of the Routier family. She described being awake at 1 to 1:30 a.m. the morning the murders took place. Bingham stated she “kept seeing car lights driving through the neighborhood”. Her bedroom had a bay window. The vehicle made several trips down the street before Bingham finally got up and looked outside to see a white vehicle. The only other description of the vehicle was “celebrity-type.”

On June 7, Betty Jung reported that her son saw a suspicious looking man in the morning wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black cap. He was also carrying a knapsack. A note on the memo states, “probably same person Officer Caillet questioned on 66 at Barretts”. The sighting took place at the Rowlett Vet Clinic, located about 3 miles west of the Routier home.

An additional lead sheet described a man fitting the same description, carrying a backpack, near I-30 and Dalrock. The tip was dated June 6, 1996, 4 p.m. It described the sighting as taking place at 5 a.m. I-30 was located south of the Routier home about 2 and a half miles away.

Was the person observed in these two separate sightings the same individual? Who did Caillet question?

Also on June 7, Jonathan Hartley called police to report that the Dallas Morning News mail carrier had threatened him. He stated the man’s name was Ray Clemons and suggested that police look into him. Hartley lived on 8301 Eagle Drive, approximately 285 feet from the Routier home.

Kory Keith lived in the neighborhood and contacted police on June 7 to report an incident that occurred during the week before the murders. He described returning home at 2:30 to 3 a.m. and seeing an older style mini van driving slowly down Eagle Drive. He described the occupants of the van as “shining lights on houses”. The van left the area as Keith approached. He tried to turn around to get a better look at the van, but was unable to locate it once he did. The only other description of the van was that it was possible light tan in color. The driver appeared to be a white male in his 20s. No description was given for the passenger.

Julie Clark was another person who contacted the police the day after the murders. She described herself as a close friend of the Routiers when she testified at Darlie’s trial. She indicated that on the day of the murders, a woman who cleaned Darlie’s house saw a black vehicle.

The sighting of the black car was reported by the woman’s daughter, Barbara Jovell, as well. Jovell’s mother reportedly saw a black 2-door sports car driving slowly down the alley located behind the Routier home. The vehicle stopped in the alley and was described as having a dark complexion. When Jovell’s mom went into the garage the vehicle was driven away.

Barbara also reported seeing a vehicle matching the same description. On June 5, Barbara had gone to pick her mother up from Darlie’s home. As the two were leaving they saw a black sports car pass them. Barbara’s mom said it was the same vehicle she saw the day before. Barbara added to the description by stating the car had “bad paint” and a “short trunk area”.

The route from the Routier home to the Reed home.

The route from the Routier home to the Reed home.

On June 8, John Reed contacted police to report that the day of the murders he was in the front yard, cleaning up. His two grandchildren were with him and they saw a white male sitting in a “faded blue older model 4 door car.” He described the man as “suspicious”. The distance from the address indicated on the telephone memo and the Routier home is 0.4 miles.

No further information is provided on the telephone lead sheet. However, the words “Duplication of 1 Keith had” is written across the bottom. At the top of the page it says “same” and then shows the number 0021 over the number 0007.

A separate lead sheet with the same date gave a little more information. The tip describes the man seeing a car parked down the street. The driver appeared to be watching the man’s grandchildren. The lead sheet says that when the man who reported this got into his vehicle to drive down to the suspicious looking car, the man pulled away and left.

The address matched the one above, but the last name was recorded as something other than Reed. Additionally, under the street address of 6312 Highgate Lane the officer wrote “Dallas, Texas”. The street address exists in both Dallas and Rowlett. If the police obtained confirmation of the correct city, it is not indicated. The address in Dallas is almost 20 miles from the Routier home.

On June 9, Bill Knuth contacted police and gave information about seeing a vehicle “cruising his neighborhood the evening of the murders”. Knuth said the driver was a young white male who was acting suspiciously. The car apparently stopped near the Routier’s corner house around 7 to 8 p.m. He was unable to get a license plate number, saying only that the vehicle he observed was either a Geo Storm or a Dodge Neon. The vehicle had 2 doors, a hatchback, and was either blue or purple.

On June 17th, Officer Needham described a report police received of a black Nissan with an identified Texas license plate was observed in the area of the Routier home. Officer Needham and Detective Latham also saw this vehicle. The lead sheet states, “Owner had been in the area after the murders – sight seeing.” No further information was given about the owner of the car or whether police established the individual had an alibi the night of the murders.

Perhaps one of the stranger vehicle sightings was reported by Bob Salsey. He first called into the police department on June 8. He was a delivery person for the Daily Business News and delivered the paper across the street from the Routier home at 12:30 a.m. the night of the murders. In the first description it says, “did not see anything suspicious”. The following day, Detective Needham spoke to Salsey. He reiterated that he was in the area the evening of the murders at about 12 to 12:30 a.m. However, this time he said he saw a white car in the driveway of the Routier home. It was described as a suburban type.

The Routiers had two vehicles in June of 1996. The first was a dark green Nissan Pathfinder. The second was an older Jaguar. The Jaguar was in the shop at the time.

It appears the police may have dismissed the sighting because the note says that Salsey was colorblind. The problem is that a person who is colorblind is unlikely to mistake a dark green vehicle for a white one. There are different forms of colorblindness. A person who has it may have difficulty identifying red, green, or both. However, people who are colorblind can see different shades in that their inability to distinguish a color does not mean it would appear blank or white.

Another problem with dismissing the sighting of a vehicle in the driveway that night is that the Pathfinder was not parked in the driveway of the Routier home. Various testimony throughout Darlie’s trial revealed the Pathfinder was routinely parked out in front of the house, instead of in the driveway. A neighbor named William Gorsuch testified that he saw the vehicle parked in front of the home the morning of the murders. Darin also testified he parked the Pathfinder in front of the home.

Whose car was parked in the driveway that evening if it was not the Routier’s?

Darlene Potter sighting on June 6 at about 2 a.m.

Darlene Potter sighting on June 6 at about 2 a.m.

In 2002, Darlene Potter gave an affidavit describing an unusual sighting during the early morning hours of June 6. Potter was returning to her residence after visiting her daughter in Cleburne, Texas. Sometime after 2 a.m. she reported that she had reached Dalrock Road, north of Highway 66 “approaching the ‘S’ curve.” As she approached the curve she slowed considerably because she was pulling a trailer behind her van. She stated the following: “I suddenly saw a man walking on the edge of the left side of the roadway headed in the same direction I was going. He was about six feet tall, medium build, had shoulder length brownish hair which was messed up, wearing a black t-shirt. He was barefooted.”

Potter then observed a second man walking on the left edge of the road as well. She described the second man as wearing a light colored baseball cap, a white shirt, and blue jeans. She said he was tall and stocky, standing at about 5’8″.

In reference to the second man, Potter added, “As I approached this man, he stepped from the side of the road as if he were walking toward my vehicle. I was just starting to accelerate slowly from out of the curve at this time and when I saw the man stepping towards my car, he looked in the direction of the first man. I then looked in my mirror again and saw the first man shaking his head as if to say ‘no’ to the second man”.

The sighting stood out in her mind because one of the men was barefooted and also because it occurred so early in the morning. It made her uneasy because she lived in the area. She returned home and tried to sleep. About 45 minutes later she said she observed a small dark-colored car driving through the field next door to her home. She said it appeared as if it were riding its brakes. No address is given for Potter so it is difficult to determine which field she was referring to or how far she lived from the Routier home.

The sighting of the two men on foot happened approximately 0.6 of a mile from the Routier’s residence.

Concluding Remarks

The above descriptions pose more questions than they answer. These strange occurrences suggest there was more going on in the neighborhood at the time of the murders than the police and prosecutors were willing to acknowledge. Some of this information was presented in court and some was not. For example, there is discussion in the trial transcripts of the police receiving information that a dark colored vehicle was observed in the area.

As previously discussed, the defense also called Rickels to the stand to reiterate what she told the police and others about an attempted break in during the early morning of June 6. However, it is difficult to find all of the information pertaining to the people and events observed in the time frame surrounding the murders. For instance, police confirmed that canvassing was done in the neighborhood. This is where officers go door-to-door to ask if anyone heard, saw, or experienced anything unusual before, during, or after the murders that might be connected. I have been unable to locate these notes, but if they exist they are likely stored with the other police files relating to this case.

There is much more to cover that creates doubt about the prosecution’s case against Darlie Routier. The more information revealed, the more apparent it becomes that an overzealous prosecution of a young mother may have resulted in a wrongful conviction.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,034 other followers