Can I get a witness?

Eyewitness testimony is a serious problem when it comes to the American criminal courts. The Innocence Project has exonerated almost 300 people who have been wrongfully convicted of heinous crimes. The organization has stated that “eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide.” The Innocence Project described misidentification as playing a role “in nearly 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.”

So what does that say about cases that rely entirely on eyewitness testimony?

Now ask yourself if you would be comfortable convicting a person if a case is based entirely on the eyewitness testimony of confirmed gang members. If the answer to that question is “no”, I have a story you must read.

Martin Anthony Villalon Jr., known to his friends and family as Anthony, is 19 years old. He resides in the Wabash Correctional Facility in Indiana – a prison well known for housing some incredibly violent and aggressive offenders. He was 15 when he was arrested in connection with the shooting of another teenager named John Shoulders. Though the DNA recovered from the crime scene did not match Anthony or the other person accused of the offense, he was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years. The prosecution’s case was based on eyewitness testimony.

The other individual charged with committing the crime, Prevaun McDaniel, was acquitted in adult court. The case against both boys was equally as weak, but McDaniel’s defense attorney fought hard in the court room for his client. He meticulously debunked the prosecution’s cases, piece by piece. He discredited alleged witnesses who were admitted gang members and likely had nefarious motives for lying to police about the shooting. McDaniel’s attorney systematically answered every question the jury could possibly have about his client and as a result of this painstaking approach, McDaniel is free.

Anthony was not nearly as fortunate. His attorney showed up to the trial, but he did not put on a defense that came close to rivaling that of McDaniel’s. In fact, a number of people waited in the halls of the courthouse to testify on Anthony’s behalf – including his grandmother, Cheryle. None of the people who could verify Anthony’s alibi, or speak to his character, were called to testify. Additionally, because these people anticipated they would testify, they were not allowed into the court room to observe the testimony of others.

Cheryle was present at the trial of Prevaun McDaniel, however. She credits the avoidance of a wrongful conviction in McDaniel’s case to his attorney. “His lawyer fought like it was his kid on trial,” she explained to me. “He pounced on every lie, every conflicting testimony, every witness…every flaw was discussed. Every time the prosecutor came up with something the lawyer jumped on it and tore it apart.” She went on to explain that even though his attorney was working for free, “he fought like he was being paid very well.”

The eyewitness testimony did not include anyone who observed the actual shooting. Instead, it consisted of a colorful array of characters. First there was Sergio “Outlaw” Rosa. Rosa admitted in court he was a gang member – belonging to the Latin Kings. He alleged that the day after Shoulders was shot, Anthony and Prevaun told him they committed the murder. He said they did it because Shoulders was the member of the Vice Lord street gang.

Another eyewitness was less certain about Anthony’s involvement in the murder. At Anthony’s trial, the witness said he did not know the teen and admitted that in his original eyewitness description he had failed to identify Anthony as Hispanic. He also confirmed he had been unable to identify Anthony when the police showed him photographs.

The third witness, Becky Clemens, took the stand and claimed Anthony stopped by her house on the day of the murder, looking for Shoulders. She said he was looking for him because he was “going to get his ass beat on the G” and because Shoulders was apparently “claiming Vice Lord.” Her testimony lacked credibility because upon further examination it was determined she had her own gang affiliations. In an appeal on behalf of Anthony, an attorney wrote, “Clemens testified that she had previously had boys living in her house who were members of the Spanish Gangster Disciples. She was shown a copy of her MySpace page, and admitted to its accuracy.”

The same defense attorney described Clemens as a “gangster mother at heart”.

The eyewitness accounts were conflicting and at times witnesses testified to seeing or hearing things that were factually incorrect. People who could have provided information countering these claims were not called to testify at Anthony’s trial.

There were other problems as well. Allegations of jury misconduct were revealed after the conviction. It was alleged that one juror was observed hugging a family member of the victim during the course of the trial.

Another problem with the jury in Anthony’s trial pertained to one of its members. “We had a big problem with one juror,” Cheryle recalled. “He was someone who knew some of our family members. We begged our lawyer not to have him sit on the jury. The judge gave the lawyer a chance to do something when she asked him if there was a problem. He said, ‘we already picked him’. Later it was discovered he had ties to the prosecutor and he gave another juror a ride home on several occasions, admitting in court that they discussed the case outside the jury room”.

Many people have maintained that neither Anthony nor Prevaun were members of a gang. The prosecution’s theory was based on this premise, despite the unsettling lack of reliable or credible evidence supporting it. Neither of the boys have ever confessed either. Cheryle explained this was despite the police having attempted to coerce a confession from Prevaun.

She noted, “Prevaun was tortured in the adult jail and every time he was beaten or hurt, the prosecutor would tell him if he said Anthony did this crime he could go home. Prevaun never did say it was Anthony. He said he didn’t know Anthony personally. He stood up to the system. Not many adults could have done that.”

Anthony is particularly vulnerable in the prison setting. He has an I.Q. of 71 points and he is described by his grandmother as being the kind of person who wants to please those around him. She does not believe he had any part in the murder of John Shoulders. She does not believe he is even capable of such a crime. “If I believed for one second he killed John I would do my best to help him live with his punishment, but I would not fight to free him,” she told me.

Cheryle worries about her grandson’s time in prison immensely. “He can be very naive. He is still like a 15 year old. He listens to these grown men and is starting to trust in what they say.” Her biggest fear is that in prison “he will change into someone else”. She despairs at the thought of losing the kind and caring boy she has always known. “We have so many great memories with Anthony. Our family loves to spend time together.”

When asked about her fondest memory she described a vacation the family took to Tennessee a year before Anthony was arrested. “There were seven of us, including my best friend. We rented a cabin for 6 days over the New Year’s holiday. Anthony and his friend carried the entire luggage, food, and other supplies up the longest flight of stairs I had ever seen. They never once complained”. She also described all of the time spent laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Anthony has a strong network of support. Members of the family visit him as often as possible. Sometimes Anthony has to remove a person from his approved list of visitors just to accommodate all of the people who want to see him. Cheryle believes that close connections with family are critical for Anthony. She is fighting to maintain his emotional well-being, while also balancing an expensive legal battle in the hopes of clearing her son’s name.

In 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals denied Anthony’s request to have his conviction overturned. His appeal called into question the constitutionality of the waiver into adult court. It also challenged his sentence of 60 years as “excessive”.

Anthony’s hope rests with the United States Supreme Court. The Court will make a decision about whether or not to hear Anthony’s case on September 24th of this year His motion is asking the court to consider if he should have had a right to a jury trial within the juvenile system. At the present time a Magistrate is responsible for making the decision as to whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult. Cheryle, and many others who signed a petition she posted online, believe that a jury should be involved in making such a serious determination.

To date, Cheryle’s petition has 484 signatures. The petition is located on Change.org, which you may access by clicking here. If the Supreme Court rules in Anthony’s favor it will set a precedent that would effect other countless other juvenile cases. Please help to make this petition a success by signing it and sharing it with others.

Cheryle wants the people reading this to know that her grandson “is innocent”. She went on to add, “If my grandson loses all his appeals he will be spending 60 years in prison. The real murderer will still be out there living his life. When Anthony comes home, I will be dead”. Most of Anthony’s other family members will be deceased as well.

“I want people to know all children are worth saving. No human being deserves to be locked in a cage for their entire life, even if they are guilty.” She then pointed to the punitive aspect of the adult system when it comes to punishing juveniles for crimes. “These children have no purpose in prison. They are wasting away. Anthony has had no schooling. He has only an eighth grade education”. She wonders how the people who support this kind of system can ever expect people who spend the majority of their lives in the prison environment – quite literally – to one day emerge from the prison setting and become a functional member of society.

“Our justice system has no mercy in their hearts,” Cheryle said finally. “It is so hard for me to grasp an understanding of what kind of society does this to children. Some children have committed terrible crimes, but does that give us the right to do terrible things to them?”

It’s a valid question. Does it?

And what about those who are wrongfully convicted? What about them?

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.

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: The fingerprints

Darlie Routier

Darlie Routier

I said in a previous blog that I would write about the Darlie Routier case again. The truth is I could write an entire book on this particular case and still not cover everything. Indeed, several people already have written books on the case and I feel comfortable saying there is still more to this complex story than most people realize.

There are many who believe that the state of Texas got it right when they prosecuted Darlie for the death of one of her two young boys, Damon. However, evidence has slowly emerged over the years that casts doubt on the theory presented by the prosecution at trial. Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis was adamant that the crime scene inside the Routier home was staged and that the sole person responsible for the murders of Devon and Damon was none other than their own mother.

Many people believed this theory when it was presented. They believed it in spite of the injuries Darlie sustained. Though a number of people testified that Darlie’s injuries were superficial, doctors who treated her at Baylor University Medical Center stated under oath that during exploratory surgery of her neck wound it was determined the knife had sliced within two millimeters of her carotid artery. Had the artery been severed, Darlie would have died without immediate treatment within minutes.

Floor plan of the Routier home

Floor plan of the Routier home

There is evidence to suggest someone outside of the Routier family entered it during the early morning hours of June 6th, 1996, before police responded to Darlie’s 911 call. I’ll begin with a discussion of the fingerprint evidence.

A single bloody fingerprint (sometimes referred to as a fingerprint or a partial palm print, though it looks like a fingerprint) was left on the glass table in the Routier’s family room the morning of the murders. At trial, Dallas police officer James Cron testified there was not enough detail to make an identification. He suggested the print was left by one of the two young boys.

The investigators working on the case failed to obtain the fingerprints of Devon and Damon to use for comparison purposes. Additionally, neither of the two medical examiners who conducted autopsies on the boys took their prints. In an attempt to put an end to speculation that the bloody print taken from the glass table belonged to one of the boys, the children were exhumed. Measurements of the childrens’ fingers were taken.

The children were buried together, holding hands. This, combined with the passage of time and conditions within the coffin, compromised the ability to collect the boys’ prints. However, some fingerprints were obtained, along with measurements.

Richard Jantz conducted an analysis of the print taken from the glass table. Jantz obtained his Ph. D in Anthropology from the University of Kansas. In 2002, Jantz signed an affidavit pertaining to his examination of the bloody print that had become known as exhibit 85-J. He explained in the report that the purpose of the examination was “to address the question of whether the fingerprint was made by an adult or a child.”

For the examination, Jantz compared the dimensions of fingerprints from a collection of dermatoglyphic prints for adults and children. Children’s prints made between the age of 4 years and 6.6 years were analyzed for the study. Jantz also had the fingerprint cards for the Routier children for consideration.

State's exhibit 85J (the fingerprint in blood on the glass table)

State’s exhibit 85J (the fingerprint in blood on the glass table)

The fingerprint made in blood consisted of a whorl pattern. Jantz determined that Devon had a whorl pattern on one of his right fingers. Damon has a whorl pattern on his right thumb. When Jantz compared the dimensions of the latent fingerprint against Damon’s thumb and Devon’s finger, he determined that the value from core to flexion crease was almost 2 mm less than the fingerprint obtained from the Routier home for Devon, and over 3 mm less for Damon.

To break this down in simpler terms, Jantz provided a chart that contained the average measurements for individuals falling within specific classifications. Again, these were based on the collection of fingerprints I referred to above. The males in the sample had an average measurement of 14.285, from core to flexion crease. Females had an average of 12.306. Children between the ages of 4 years and 6.6 years had an average of 9.21. The bloody fingerprint measured 12.6.

Based on the data provided by Jantz, the latent print was not consistent with a young child. It appeared to be the most consistent with an adult female; however, it is important to note that a variation in measurements exist. Standard deviation, for the male measurements, was 1.881.

Jantz also looked at ridge breadth, which represents “ridges which run transversely across the finger between the pattern and the flexion crease.” Jantz also wrote, “It is obvious that the latent print has coarser ridges than either Damon’s thumb or Devon’s digit IV.” Those two digits were compared since they were the only ones containing whorl patterns. The average measurement in centimeters for adult males was 18.446, with a standard deviation of 2.231. For women, the measurement was an average of 20.386, with a standard deviation of 2.085. Finally, for children the average measurement was 27.322, with a standard deviation of 3.077. The latent print measured 20.6. Jantz concluded by stating, “The foregoing analysis is able to successfully identify the prints of the two known children, the thumb of Damon Routier, and digit IV from Devon Routier, as those of children. The latent print consistently has a higher probability of having been made by an adult. The probabilities range from 0.767 to 0.985, depending upon which character is used.”

Though Jantz’s report supports the defense’s contention that the print did not belong to either of the Routier children, it is not sufficient on its own to exclude Darlie Routier as the source of the print. The logical progression of thinking, on the part of the state and those convinced of Darlie’s guilt, was that the print belonged to Darlie.

In 2003, Robert Lohnes signed an affidavit wherein he described comparing Darlie Routier’s fingerprints to the latent bloody print obtained from the glass table. Previously, Lohnes worked as a latent print examiner from 1979 to 1996. He worked in conjuction with the New York City Major Case Squad and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Joint Bank Robbery Task Force. He taught homicide investigation courses and conducted training seminars on detection and recovery methods for latent prints. Lohnes compared the latent print to a print card containing Darlie’s fingerprints. After conducting analysis of the prints, Lohnes concluded that “No. 85-J was not made by the person from whom the fingerprints on Exhibit B were taken.”

Exhibit B consisted of Darlie Routier’s fingerprints. Lohnes was not contacted by the state or Darlie’s defense to make the comparison either; he was contacted by ABC News.

The prosecution responded by submitting the affidavit of Pat Wertheim who concluded that all of Darlie’s fingerprints were excluded except the the ring finger of her right hand. Wertheim claimed that finger could not be matched to the latent print, nor excluded.

One of the attorneys, Stephen Cooper, handling Darlie’s appeals told the media “no less than three other fingerprint experts have excluded Darlie as a possible source.” Cooper stated that Jantz was not included in the three experts who excluded the convicted woman as a source of the print.

Darlie’s attorneys also claimed, in her Writ of Habeas Corpus, that the above described fingerprint has been compared to law enforcement personnel who responded to the scene. The state has changed their theory to fit the crime and to fit evolving explanation of evidence based on advancements in expertise and science. The prosecution originally suggested the fingerprint was left by a child. When this claim was challenged the prosecution altered their theory by claiming Darlie was the contributor of the print. It appears the state has been unable to obtain a statement that definitively identifies Darlie as a source of the print. The best they have to offer is the contention that a single finger on Darlie’s right hand cannot be excluded or identified as the contributor. But what does that even mean? Does that finding have any value in light of other experts finding the print does not match Darlie?

In terms of fingerprint evidence, there appears to be more. In 2003, Darlie’s attorneys filed a renewed motion for the “testing of physical and biological evidence,” combined with a request for an evidentiary hearing. Two fingerprints were taken from the utility room door, leading to the garage of the Routier home. One print was made in blood and the other was not. The fingerprint below the bloody print was examined by Lohnes and identified as matching the middle finger of Darin’s left hand.

However, the motion states that two experts – Lohnes and a forensic fingerprint analyst named Glenn Langenburg – examined the same print to determine if Darlie could be identified or excluded as the source of the print. Both experts excluded her. The experts did not agree as to whether or not Darin was the source of the print, however. Langenburg’s assessment differed from Lohnes’ in that it excluded Darin as the contributor.

In 2008, the federal court granted Darlie’s request to test evidence, in part. Regarding the fingerprint evidence, the motion stated the following: “The bloody fingerprint deserves to be examined with the most modern techniques available. The same is true for the fingerprints marked as State Exhibit nos 85-F and 85-G.” The bloody print refers to the first piece of evidence discussed above which consisted of a fingerprint located on the glass table. However, this has been put on hold until Texas is finished with other approved testing.

In another motion, filed in 2008, Darlie’s defense asked that the court grant the request to run the fingerprint evidence through all available fingerprint databases. The defense added, “As with the DNA testing, any identification of this print as belonging to a male outside the Routier family will provide powerful corroboration of Ms. Routier’s account.”

Indeed it would. It would destroy the prosecution’s theory that there was not an intruder as Darlie claimed. If any of the prints are run through a fingerprint database and match someone outside the Routier home, who was in the area at the time, it would mean an intruder did enter the family home. If there is a match to either of the bloody fingerprints, to someone outside the immediate family, it means they were present during the attacks because the prints were made in blood.

Darlie Lynn Routier fingerprints

Darlie Lynn Routier fingerprints

I placed a photograph of the print made in blood, left on the glass table, on Exhibit B (the fingerprint card used to compare Darlie Routier’s prints to those found in the home). Click on the picture to see the larger version.

In addition to possibly matching one or more prints to someone outside of the Routier home, there is also the chance that DNA tests may be successful in extrapolating DNA belonging to a non-family member. DNA tests are currently far more sophisticated than they were in 1996 and 1997, when the crimes originally occurred and when Darlie was tried in the death of Damon.

DNA testing (and retesting) was approved for a number of items. In April of 2012, the court ordered the materials be delivered to the Department of Public Safety Laboratory no later than the 23rd of May. The court ordered that the testing take place in a “timely and efficient manner”.

It is now mid August of 2012.

Some may deny there is any doubt at all in this case, but I feel that people who take the time to review all of the available evidence will find it difficult to conclude that there is not reasonable doubt. Others who read through the evidence – particularly those who have witnessed the aftermath of wrongful convictions (some of which have been corrected) – are likely to come to the realization that justice was not served in this case.

Two little boys died horrific deaths and their mother is on death row for the crime. Texas has executed people in situations where there was considerable doubt about their actual guilt. Johnny Garrett is merely one example. Texas has even gone to great lengths to keep the truth from surfacing. In Garrett’s case, the state threatened to take legal action against the family if they pursued DNA testing to prove his innocence after his execution had already taken place. That particular case is chronicled in a documentary called “The Last Word”. Though low budget, the film is a cautionary tale about the rush to justice that occurs in some situations, resulting in the delay or denial of justice.

There is much more evidence and information worth examining in this case. I have decided that the best thing to do is to break this down into smaller descriptions over time.

The most salient question that remains in this case is this: Should any state carry out an execution when there are serious doubt as to whether or not the person committed the crime?

More importantly, now that you know there is doubt are you comfortable standing by and merely hoping that the wheels of justice eventually move in the right direction?

I’m not. I hope there are many more who feel as I do.

More information about Darlie’s case may be found on the site managed by her mother, Darlie Kee:  http://www.fordarlieroutier.org/

Additional information is also included on this site: http://www.routiertranscripts.com/