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:

https://www.change.org/petitions/governor-rick-scott-state-of-florida-pardon-ryan-holle

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.

The exoneration of Tim Masters

Drawn to Injustice: The Wrongful Conviction of Timothy Masters

Drawn to Injustice: The Wrongful Conviction of Timothy Masters

I first learned about the book Drawn to Injustice: The Wrongful Conviction of Tim Masters while writing about Tim’s case in the beginning of the week. I knew as soon as I saw a book had been written about the case that I had to read it. I bought the Kindle edition on Amazon.com and finished it in a couple of days (which is fast for me since I have two young kids and a job).

I want to talk about the book because it is well written, disturbing, and the best detailing of a wrongful conviction I have ever read. A close second is Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt – a book that examines the conviction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley for the murders of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.

Tim’s book is powerful for many reasons. The book is written in the first person. Tim begins his story by describing the beginning of his day on February 11th of 1987. He was in the tenth grade and lived in a trailer with his father in Fort Collins, Colorado. The day began like any other, but soon marked the beginning of a nightmare that would ultimately result in Tim’s wrongful conviction, his incarceration at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility (known to many as “Bueny”), and his exoneration by the attorney general’s office in 2011.

Though Tim was 15 when the body of 37 year-old Peggy Hettrick was found in a field near his home, he was not arrested and charged for the murder until 1998. By the time of his arrest for the murder, Tim had served in the Navy and had earned an honorable discharge in 1997. His father had died just two years earlier from a massive heart attack.

The pursuit of a conviction against Tim is one of the more unnerving aspects of the book. One detective in particular, Jim Broderick, stood out in his quest to arrest Tim for the murder. Broderick consistently ignored all evidence and leads pointing directly away from Tim as a suspect. He appeared to go to great lengths to suppress critical evidence in the case. For example, Broderick never informed Tim’s defense about other potential suspects in the murder (and by suspects I mean people who were far more suspicious than a 15 year old boy walking through a field near his house to catch a school bus). The prosecution hid this information as well.

Lessons Learned: The Media

Throughout the book Tim touched on various ways the media had an impact on his case. His original attorneys advised him to not to speak to the media and tell his side of the story, even though the police spoke to the press regularly. The defense’s reluctance to speak to the media, or allow Tim to do it, resulted in a very one-sided presentation of the case to the public. Tim examined the influence this had on potential jurors, writing in his book: “One woman told the court she couldn’t be impartial. She told the court, ‘I thought he was guilty based upon the paper.'”

So much for not believing everything one reads, right? However, during my own advocacy I have observed the same approach to avoiding media coverage by countless other defense attorneys. I believe that providing the public with a full picture is essential because in America criminal cases are tried in the media long before they ever play out in a courtroom. There is no innocent until proven guilty in the court of public opinion.

Hidden Suspects

The book discusses the perverted and criminal acts of Dr. Hammond who lived so close to the field where Peggy was found that his bedroom had a clear view of it. Dr. Hammond had set up a video recording device in a guest bathroom vent that recorded images of visitors using the facilities. He videotaped children as young as thirteen. When his activities were exposed the police and prosecution took action that seemed more protective than judicious. It is worth reading the book to see precisely what was done to protect this man from prosecution, and then his eventual response to the pressure (though minimal).

The same was true regarding Matthew Zoellner, Peggy’s “on again off again” boyfriend. Zoellner claimed to have an alibi the evening of the murder; however, when questioned about seeing Peggy at the Prime Minister the evening before she was discovered in the field he got the name of his own alibi witness incorrect. The alibi in question was a woman named Dawn Gilbreath, whom Zoellner referred to during questioning as “Shawn”. Dawn claimed to have left Zoellner’s residence around 3 a.m., meaning she was not with him for the entire night. The jury was not informed of this, among other things.

This is important because when touch DNA testing was later conducted on Peggy’s clothing, Zoellner’s DNA was found on the inner part of her panties, as well as on the cuffs of her shirt. The DNA was found in locations the examiners suspected the perpetrator of the crime would have touched.

Another remarkable piece of information I obtained from the book pertained to the prosecution’s file. While Tim’s attorneys worked to appeal his conviction, they sought the original prosecution file regarding his case. It turned out that the complete file had never been turned over to the defense as required by law. Thousands of pages of documents were withheld. Had Tim’s original defense had access to these files, as they should have, it is hard to imagine he would have ever been convicted.

However, having seen firsthand the injustices that have taken place throughout this country I am uncomfortable making that statement with any degree of certainty. I do feel sure of three things though. First, I know Tim Masters did not murder Peggy Hettrick. Two, I know he was relentlessly railroaded by an overzealous detective and the prosecution went along with it. Three, if the jury had access to the DNA results that eventually prompted his conviction to be vacated, he wouldn’t have been convicted in the first place.

Steve Lehto: Attorney and Coauthor

Steve Lehto is an attorney who helped to prepare and write the book about Tim’s wrongful conviction. He describes himself as “naturally skeptical” and said that early on, upon learning Tim had been exonerated by DNA evidence, he “still assumed that the case against him had been substantial enough to support a conviction.” He recognized that Tim was innocent, but like so many other people in this country he believed that when a jury convicted someone it was because there was evidence supporting the decision.

As he began to review the transcripts, case documents, and other materials pertaining to Tim’s case he was alarmed at what he discovered. “I was shocked at how non-existent the case really was. I had access to the case files, transcripts, everything the police had. It was a huge pile of nothing incriminating.” He added, “I never doubted he was innocent. I came to doubt whether the prosecutors ever really thought he was guilty. I believe they knew they were prosecuting an innocent man.”

Steve is primarily a litigator. However, Tim’s case has caused him to adopt a cynical view of the criminal justice system. He is particularly disturbed by “the police and how far they will go to make someone look guilty – rather than simply following the evidence where it leads.”

I asked Steve how he approached the project of helping Tim to prepare a book about his experiences. He explained that “Tim kept journals while he was in prison and after he was released. I reviewed those along with the case files (which Tim knew extensively) and then he and I spent a lot of time going over it. Tim knows those files better than the prosecutors ever did.”

He discussed the strategy behind the process of putting together the monumental amount of information in Tim’s case. “We had to come up with a way to make a huge mass of documentation and evidence accessible to the average person. The funny thing is that Tim wound up being the voice of reason. I really wanted to lay into the prosecutors and the police and Tim was the one who wanted to dial it down. The book is told from his perspective so it was appropriate to write it exactly how he wanted it told.”

I asked if Steve believed Peggy’s killer or killers would ever be brought to justice. He responded that “it is hard to say. The prosecutors and the police screwed up Tim’s trial so badly that anyone charged with the murder now could actually point to mistakes made at Tim’s trial to help their case (for example: There were other potential suspects who were never even looked at by the police. Now her killer could point to them as well and say, ‘What about them?’).”

Steve cautions that Tim’s story is not as unique as it might sound. “Tim’s story is remarkable for several reasons, one of which is that it is too common. We hear stories all the time about defendants who are convicted and then released later because of DNA or other evidence. We need to be mindful that our system has its flaws. One way to balance that is to allow for DNA testing and other methods to confirm or refute convictions.”

Regarding wrongful prosecutions and the barriers presented to those who encounter barriers to proving their innocence, such as the reluctance on the part of prosecutors to later test DNA evidence using advanced technology, Steve said, “I’ve never understood prosecutors who fight to block DNA testing. If the conviction is appropriate, the DNA will underscore that. Right?”.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this is precisely the problem people like Darlie Routier have faced – all while sitting on Texas’s infamous death row. It is the obstacle that prevents Kirstin Blaise Lobato of Nevada from proving her innocence in court as well.

Why People Must Read the Book

The book reads like a well crafted fictional novel. The only problem is that the book is true. It is an unsettling account of a man’s conviction when there was no physical evidence suggesting he committed the crime, no eyewitness claiming he did it, no confession, and no logical motive. If the idea of this happening scares you, good. It should. This is not the kind of system that should exist in a civilized society that values human rights.

People need to read this book to develop an understanding of how and why wrongful convictions occur. Tim’s honest account of his experiences being interrogated and incarcerated are troubling and yet refreshing on account of his candid descriptions.

This book is proof that a wrongful conviction can happen to anyone, even if there is no real evidence existing to support it. It should be required reading for criminal justice and law majors, as well as any person who still believes the myth that people are only convicted by a jury when strong evidence exists to support that decision.

That myth is being systematically debunked by courageous people like Tim Masters who are not afraid to speak up about the serious flaws in the system that are preventing true justice for countless numbers of people.

In this book Tim’s voice is loud and it is clear. I urge you to read his story and share it with others.

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.

The wrongful conviction of Kirstin Blaise Lobato

Kirstin Blaise Lobato

Kirstin Blaise Lobato

In the 1990s, wrongful convictions seemed a rarity. They were deemed by many as an aberration, resulting from corruption or extreme ineptitude on the part of police and prosecutors. In 1988, the documentary The Thin Blue Line detailed the story of Randall Dale Adams who was charged and convicted of murdering a police officer in Dallas, Texas. Adams was on death row for 12 years before his sentence was reduced. He remained in prison for another 8 years before he was finally released.

Ironically, the man who prosecuted Adams is the same person who defended Darlie Lynn Routier in 1997 – the Texas mother accused of murdering her two children and perpetuating an attack on herself to mislead investigators. Evidence in the Routier case points to a rush to judgment as well.

Wrongful convictions pose many problems. First, when the wrong person is accused and convicted of a crime it means the person or people who committed the crime go free. Second, wrongful convictions rob people of their lives and deprive their families and friends of opportunities to share meaningful experiences outside of the prison setting. Third, every wrongful conviction further erodes the American justice system – stripping it of its integrity and fundamental purpose.

Kirstin Blaise Lobato’s case is a salient example of a wrongful conviction. Kirstin goes by her middle name, Blaise. She has been incarcerated for 11 years for a crime she did not commit. While you have probably read those exact words many times, let me assure you there is no other case quite like Blaise’s.

I will begin telling Blaise’s story by detailing events that took place in the summer of 2001. Blaise graduated from high school in the spring of 2000. By the summer of 2001, she had fallen in with a somewhat rough crowd and was using drugs. An incident in late May of 2001 marked the beginning of a dramatic change in Blaise’s life, however.

By late May, Blaise was staying in Las Vegas with one of her friends. She was getting out of her car in the parking lot of the Budget Suites Hotel on the eastern side of the city when a large man suddenly attacked her from behind. Blaise was thrown to the ground and as the man knelt down, preparing to sexually assault her, she pulled out a butterfly knife she carried for protection. She attempted to stab the man in the general area of his groin, which provided her with an opportunity to escape her assailant.

Kirstin Blaise Lobato at 18

Kirstin Blaise Lobato at 18

Many people who have experienced any type of sexual assault refrain from reporting the incident to police. Sometimes the person confides in friends or family members about the experience. Blaise shared the details of the attempted assault with at least five people, including her father. She described her assailant as “really big” – approximately 200 lbs and over 6″ tall.

By the beginning of July, Blaise was determined to make positive changes in her life. She made the decision to leave behind the lifestyle she had adopted in Las Vegas and move to Panaca to stay with her father, stepmother, and sister – 170 miles away.

On July 5th, Blaise’s stepmother accompanied her to the doctor. Blaise had not been feeling well. The clinic drew her blood and asked her to provide urine for a 24-hour urine test. The blood and urine tests showed that she had used cannabis, but there was no indication she was using meth. This would later become an important detail.

For Blaise, July 8th was a relatively uneventful day. As many as thirteen friends and family members saw and spoke to her throughout the day and well into the evening. Her car remained parked in front of the her family’s home.

However, 170 miles away in Las Vegas, 44 year old Duran Bailey had a markedly different kind of day. By around 10 p.m., a man who was dumpster diving contacted police to inform them he discovered a body. The person discovered was Bailey and he had been beaten and stabbed to death.

Bailey’s murder was especially brutal. Bloody foot prints were found on his torso and leading away from his body. In addition to sustaining what was later described as “blunt head trauma”, Bailey’s penis had been amputated. Semen was found in the man’s rectum, but did not contain sperm and so it could not be tested for DNA at the time. Fresh looking tire tracks were observed in the immediate area as well. Police collected chewing gum that was on the cardboard box used to conceal Bailey’s body, along with cigarettes and other items in the area.

An early lead examined informally by detectives pertained to a woman named Diann Parker and a man named Steven King. Parker had previously reported having been beaten and raped on July 5th by a man she later identified as Duran Bailey. In Parker’s original report she gave the names of a number of Mexican males who warned Bailey to stay away from her before he raped her. The detectives conducted a criminal background search on the men and turned up nothing. Astonishingly, they did not pursue the lead any further.

Instead, police decided to zero in on a far less likely and improbable scenario. It began with a conversation between Dixie Tienken and juvenile probation officer Laura Johnson. Tienken allegedly told Johnson that one of her former students told her she cut off the penis of a man who attacked her. Johnson then relayed this information to one of the officer’s investigating Bailey’s death on July 20th. She identified the woman in question as 18 year old Kirstin Blaise Lobato and she gave the officer information about where Blaise was living.

A preliminary background check on Blaise revealed that when the teenager was 6 years old she had been sexually assaulted for nine months by her mother’s boyfriend. This was information the police discussed with Blaise when they later questioned her.

The police felt they had solved the mystery behind Bailey’s brutal homicide. Blaise did not confess to the murder, but did describe the attack that took place in late May. It did not concern them that Blaise was only 100 lbs, or that a significant number of people could confirm she was in Panaca during the time in question. They also were not fazed by the fact that the attack she described to them during questioning occurred a month before Bailey’s murder, and involved the description of a man who was much larger and taller than Bailey. Moreover, the attack on Kirstin happened in a completely different part of Las Vegas.

Another problem was the claim that the two events were the same. The time difference between the events of one month was not the only distinguishing factor. The outcome of the first consisted of both people leaving the situation very much alive. The second resulted in a murder. The police felt these two incidents were the same and that instead of fleeing the scene leaving a man alive, Blaise had viciously murdered the man without leaving any shred of evidence linking her to Bailey or the scene. But the theory simply did not fit the evidence, nor did it make any sense.

Police seized her vehicle and searched for blood. A preliminary analysis of the car revealed that there were spots that could potentially be blood; however, further analysis determined they were not as a number of substances will test positive in preliminary tests but turn out to be something else entirely. None of the DNA collected at the crime scene matched Kirstin. The police did not find any physical evidence linking her to the crime or to the Las Vegas area when the murder occurred.

The only thing the police had was a girl who reported fending off a would-be rapist with a knife about one month before Bailey’s murder. Later it would be speculated that Blaise went to Las Vegas to obtain methamphetamines and was on some kind of meth-induced binge when she murdered Bailey. The problem is that blood and urine tests conducted in the days prior to the murder refute this contention. Alibi witnesses stating Blaise was in Panaca also shed considerable doubt on the prosecution’s case. Many of these witnesses were not allowed to testify at Blaise’s trial.

The presumption of innocence is a basic rule applied to criminal procedures in the United States. In the state of Nevada, “every person charged with the commission of a crime shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by competent evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.” When it comes to jury instruction in a criminal case, Nevada statutes require juries to receive a specific description of reasonable doubt. No other substitute is allowable by law. According to NRS 175.211, the description reads as follows:

1. A reasonable doubt is one based on reason. It is not mere possible doubt, but is such a doubt as would govern or control a person in the more weighty affairs of life. If the minds of the jurors, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, are in such a condition that they can say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge, there is not a reasonable doubt. Doubt to be reasonable must be actual, not mere possibility or speculation.

The prosecution did not present an argument to the jury that erased reasonable doubt. In fact, their entire case was built on speculation, hearsay, and possibility. The prosecution told the jury the attack on Blaise in May was really the same incident in which Bailey was murdered. This was despite the fact that many people corroborated Blaise’s claim she was in Panaca in the time period surrounding the murder. Nevermind that the shoe or boot prints found on the body and leading away from the scene were much too large to belong to Blaise, or that there was no physical evidence linking the young woman to the murder even though a plethora of evidence had been collected. The tire tracks found at the scene did not match Blaise’s car either.

There are many more details about this case and all of them further point to Blaise’s innocence. In fact, Hans Sherrer from a site known as Justice Denied took the time to detail this troubling case in a book that is available online. For those who are interested in learning more about this case I highly recommend reading his account (click here to download).

Blaise was eventually given a retrial. She was subsequently convicted of voluntary manslaughter using a deadly weapon, along with sexual penetration of a deceased person. She received a 13 year minimum sentence, with a maximum of 35 years. Though she will be eligible for parole at the 13 year mark, the system has failed Blaise many times before. The system has failed others in the past and will continue to fail people until wrongful convictions are openly acknowledged and much is done to correct the problem.

Efforts on behalf of a group of Blaise’s supporters have helped to bring this case to the attention of many. A petition was launched by Michelle Ravell, asking the current Clark County District Attorney, Steven B. Wolfson, to allow DNA testing in Blaise’s case. The Innocence Project has even agreed to pay for the testing if DA Wolfson allows it. Over 143,000 people have signed this petition, but Wolfson has thus far refused to allow testing.

Michelle became involved with this case because her son had met Blaise the weekend before she was arrested. She remembers what transpired following her son meeting the young woman well. “When he came home he said to me, ‘Mom, I just met the woman I want to marry.’ This was a real shock to me because he had never said those words about any woman before,” Michelle explained.

Michelle had no experience when it came to dealing with the justice system, but upon Blaise’s arrest and subsequent conviction, she felt compelled to do whatever she could to help the young woman. She sat through the first trial and felt strongly that Blaise had been wrongfully convicted. “I couldn’t let it go,” she said. “I believe that the universe gives you what you are meant to have, and it is your job to accept it with joy and grace. I knew that I had to do something to right the wrong. I did research on the internet for hours on wrongful convictions. I wrote others. I wrote Innocence Projects…I wrote Justice Denied. A friend of mine helped me put up the first website.”

Michelle then came in contact with Helen Caddes who offered to provide her skills and expertise in relation to putting up a really good website, containing detailed information about Blaise’s case.

Helen first learned about Blaise’s case when she discovered Michelle’s first website. Helen described the relationship, stating, “Michelle and I have worked as a team to raise awareness about Kirstin’s case for almost 10 years now. We have been guests on radio shows to discuss the case, Michelle has been interviewed by local news media, I gave a speech at a juvenile justice conference in Las Vegas in 2003 and we are both active participants in wrongful conviction communities online. I gave a presentation about Kirstin’s case in a roundtable event at my college a number of years ago and did pamphleting on campus (Middle Tennessee State University). We’ve made stickers, t-shirts, business cards and bumper stickers to help raise awareness.  Most recently, we delivered the petition to District Attorney Steve Wolfson with a number of supporters, friends, and family members present.”

Helen corresponds with Blaise and describes her as “one of the most caring, intelligent and wonderful people” she has ever met. Helen has connected with Blaise and her story for her own personal reasons as well. “As a survivor of sexual assault at the age of 16, Kirstin’s story touched me deeply – it could have been me, as far as I was concerned, had I been able to defend myself when I was attacked just as she was.” She added, “If I had defended myself, I too could have been framed and convicted of an unrelated murder – as strange as it sounds, that’s what happened to her. That’s one reason I’m so dedicated to pursuing her freedom.”

Having gone through the experience of petitioning a prosecutor myself in the past, I was curious as to whether Michelle’s petition effort was at all successful in motivating the DA to test the DNA. Michelle responded: “The only effect that it has had on the DAs is that they have become even more negative. It disgusts me that these people whose job it is to see that justice is done, are not willing to do that. The DA that has signed the legal briefs in Kirstin’s case has lied so many times to the press, saying that she ‘confessed’, which is not true at all, and they are even lying to the Nevada Supreme Court in their briefs. They say that the DNA is from a trash enclosure and won’t produce anything because anyone’s DNA could be there,” she said. “The DNA that we have requested to be tested isn’t just garbage that was laying around in a trash enclosure. All the items would have been touched by the person who committed the crime.”

Michelle sees no logical reason for the district attorneys to continue to fight the testing. It would be at the expense of the Innocence Project and it would provide answers in a murder that has claimed more victims, through the misuse of the legal system, than just Bailey.

Michelle spends up to three hours a day on Blaise’s case. She helps to raise awareness, answers questions, and works with others like Helen Caddes to find new ways to keep the public informed about what has happened to Blaise. She has become convinced that Blaise is merely one of many people wrongfully convicted in America’s criminal justice system. She is committed to finding the time, in between other life and family obligations, to work toward correcting serious problems in the legal system.

Supporters ask the DA to allow DNA testing

Supporters ask the DA to allow DNA testing

I asked Michelle what people can do to help her in this quest for justice. She asks that people sign the petition asking the DA to allow testing. She would also like for people to reach out to Blaise and tell her she has support. People may also help to fund her commissary account as it helps her pay for basic items. It also helps to keep her spirits up. Other ways that people can help include assisting Michelle and others in financing a billboard or two, printing t-shirts, yard signs, and other promotional materials.

People may even help by sharing articles, the petition, and promotional items regarding to case on Facebook and other social media sites. Contacting local and national news media is yet another great way to get the word out about Blaise’s case and to help educate the public on wrongful convictions in general.

“Contact public figures,” Michelle added. “And ask them to get involved in her case, either by speaking out about it, recording a  song about her case, etc. Contact investigative journalists (the few that still exist that actually research and tell the truth) and ask them to write a story about her case. Talk to everyone you know and forward her website, Facebook page, and information to them to raise awareness.”

Blaise’s case is particularly disturbing because a woman who fended off an attempted rape was later victimized by the same system that is supposed to protect victims of violence. When she was arrested for Bailey’s murder, she was working on turning her life around. She was surrounded by people who loved her and cared about her well-being. Those people have also suffered as a result of Blaise’s conviction.

All the people who love and support Blaise just want her to return home. Helen described her future hopes to me, stating, “My dream for Blaise is for her to be free, to have her dreams come true and for her to be truly happy one day, despite all she has been through.”

Anyone reading this has the power to help make that a reality.

Blaise (right) and her younger sister Ashley

Blaise (right) and her younger sister Ashley

Please help Blaise achieve the freedom she deserves!

Blaise’s website is here:http://www.justice4kirstin.com/

Sign and share her petition here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/allow-dna-testing-for-kirstin-blaise-lobato

Join the Facebook group geared toward advocacy for Blaise:

http://www.facebook.com/groups/414695245218231/

Read the book (very detailed, with timelines, pictures, and other information):

http://justicedenied.org/books/lobato_conviction_2nd.pdf

 

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/

Circumventing a Supreme Court ruling

Governor Branstad

Governor Branstad

Iowa governor, Terry Branstad, pulled a fast one earlier this week. As a means of diminishing the Supreme Court’s June ruling regarding mandatory life without parole sentences, Governor Branstad commuted the sentences of 38 inmates who had received life without parole as juveniles to life with an option for parole at 60 years.

This means that if a 15 year-old received a life without parole sentence in Iowa, he would become eligible for parole at the age of 75. That’s the good news I suppose – that there is a parole option.

The bad news is that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American males are expected to live, on average, until they are a little over 75 years old. I doubt the Census Bureau took into account factors that could influence a person’s lifespan, such as life-long exposure to the adult prison system.

Females tend to live longer than males. The Census Bureau reported that women in America live until they are approximately 80 years old on average. Again, these estimates do not take into account prison conditions and are generalized to the entire American population.

How is the option for parole after serving sixty years in prison not life without parole? Who is going to take care of these people if they are indeed paroled at age 75 or older? Is there anyone who truly believes that any of these people will be granted parole, or that they won’t be completely institutionalized if they are?

It’s absurd and it’s offensive. It not only undermines a ruling instituted by the highest court in this nation, but it mocks that ruling at the very same time.

The Court’s June ruling eliminated mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, but it did not take the option completely off the table. Instead, it appears to have left a number of doors wide open for states to circumvent the decision through means such as those described above.

Instead of allowing each person’s case to return to court for individual review based on the person’s age at the time of the crime, circumstances surrounding the crime, progress while incarcerated, and other potentially mitigating factors, Branstad slammed the door to a second chance,  for all who received the sentence at or after the age of fourteen, shut.

United States Senator Tom Harkin disagrees with Governor Branstad’s decision. Harkin suggested that the focus should be on rehabilitation. He added, “Maybe there’s some that are just so violent or something they have to stay (in prison), but this ought to be left up to parole boards and district attorneys, state jurisprudence offices to take a look at that.”

With regard to this particular decision, I have to agree with Harkin wholeheartedly.