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:

Additional information is also included on this site:

Will DNA save Darlie Routier from execution?

Darlie Routier

Darlie Routier

Darlie Routier is on Texas’s infamous death row. She was charged in 1996 of murdering her two children, Damon and Devon. The state of Texas only prosecuted Darlie for Damon’s murder. Part of the reason for this was because Darlie and Damon’s blood was found on a butcher knife taken from the Routier residence on the morning of the murders. The weapon used to kill Devon has not been identified by DNA evidence.

Darlie sustained injuries as well. The prosecution would later claim she inflicted these on herself. The knife injury to her neck came within millimeters of her carotid artery. Had the cut been deeper it would have caused her death within minutes.

Since Darlie’s conviction in 1997, her defense has fought a bitter battle in the court system to obtain permission to test DNA related materials left at the scene. It is interesting, albeit not that unusual for Texas, that the state has been so adamant about asking the court to refuse Darlie’s defense permission to test a number of specific items. If the state is certain they convicted the right person for the crime, further DNA testing should only serve to solidify their case against her.


However, if any of the DNA evidence yields a result that demonstrates an intruder entered the Routier home in the early morning hours of June 6th of 1996, the state of Texas will be forced to acknowledge their mistake in convicting the mother of the two children. Additionally, if the state of Texas convicted the wrong person for this crime, it means the guilty party remains unidentified and unaccountable. It would mean an innocent woman has spent a significant portion of her life in prison, separated from her surviving son as well as others who love and support her.

It would also mean that the police turned the victim of a vicious attack into the perpetrator.

Damon and Devon Routier

Damon and Devon Routier

Many troubling pieces of evidence exist that raise doubt about Darlie’s alleged guilt. The first set of compelling evidence includes the unidentified fingerprints. Three fingerprints taken from the scene of the crime suggest someone other than Darlie was responsible for the attacks.

One of the prints is described as “a patent bloody fingerprint” lifted from the utility room door. This fingerprint is limited in terms of forensic value as there is not enough detail to definitively identify the contributor. However, the fingerprint has enough detail to allow for the exclusion of potential contributors. Darlie Routier has been excluded as a source of the print.

The bloody print on the utility room door supports Darlie’s claim that an intruder fled from that door, following the attack on her and her two children. The prosecution contended this was not possible, but the fingerprint evidence contradicts that claim completely.

A second print was taken from the same door. The print was located below the bloody fingerprint and was analyzed by latent print consultant, Robert Lohnes in 2003.  Lohnes concluded that the print matched “the second ring finger joint of Darin Routier.”

Though Darlie was excluded as a source of the above-described print, there is debate as to whether the print belonged to Darin, who was married to Darlie in 1996.  A second print expert, Glenn Langenburg, analyzed the same print, but concluded that neither Darlie or Darin was the source.

Though two print experts provided varying opinions as to whether or not Darin Routier could be excluded as a source of the print, both excluded Darlie. Further examination of the print was performed to determine whether or not Darin was excluded. I have not yet come across these results.

Finally, a third fingerprint was taken from the coffee table that was located in the living room where Darlie and her sons were sleeping the night of the attack. This fingerprint was also described as a “bloody fingerprint”. Darlie was excluded as the source of this print as well.

This means there were three fingerprints at the crime scene – two of which were bloody – that matched someone other than Darlie. If any of the existing DNA matches someone who did not live in the Routier house, it would provide powerful and compelling evidence that an intruder was responsible for the attack.

Though the prosecution does not want existing evidence to be tested or retested – including the blood from the fingerprints, blood from Darin’s jeans, blood from Darlie’s nightshirt, hairs, and blood from the tube sock found in the alley behind the Routier house – if tested using modern advanced technology, this evidence may be the key to saving a woman from execution.

Darlie has long maintained she is innocent of the crimes for which she was convicted. I use the word “crimes” because in addition to being convicted by a jury for Damon’s death, she was also convicted in the media for both of her children’s murders.

After many years of legal wrangling over DNA testing, the court granted the defense permission to proceed with testing. In April of 2012, the Court filed a motion outlining provisions for the testing and ordering that  the items go to the Department of Public Safety Laboratory in Austin, Texas. These items were to be delivered no later than May 23rd of 2012 so that testing could commence.

Upon receiving the items, the above department was asked to conduct testing in a “timely and efficient manner”.  It is important to note that the testing of the existing extracts carries the risk that existing evidence could be completely consumed by the process. For this reason, both parties agreed to move forward with the testing of blood samples and other cuttings that were taken from the same items as the extracts.

What information will this testing yield? When will the public know the results?

Alleyway behind Darlie Routier's home

Alleyway behind Darlie Routier’s home

The fingerprints are not the only evidence supporting Darlie’s claim of an intruder. Multiple witnesses reported seeing a black car to the police. An officer testified at Darlie’s trial that one of the witnesses described seeing the black car in the alleyway behind the Routier home. The alley is shown intersecting with Eagle Drive, immediately behind the Routier home. This is significant because the alley is also where the blood-stained sock was found.

If the police investigated the sightings of the black car, I have not found documentation of it to date. The sighting of the vehicle was suspicious enough to prompt neighbors to seek out an officer to make a report. However, the sightings did not appear to concern the police.

This case prompts many questions about the original police investigation, the amount of time it has taken for the court to grant DNA testing, the circumstances surrounding the testing, and others.

Those not directly involved in the prosecution of Darlie Routier will probably agree that the testing of DNA evidence is important. For those who believe Darlie is guilty the perception is that this kind of testing should only support the jury’s 1997 verdict.

However, for those who believe in her innocence this testing could mean the difference between life and death for Darlie. When someone’s life is on the line, I for one, believe that all evidence should be thoroughly examined before drastic consequences are enforced. Once a person is executed there is no undoing it, regardless of what the evidence may later reveal.

The evidence in this case begs far more questions than it answers. I plan to write more on this case in the future, but wanted to touch on the DNA testing to inform those who are unaware.

If you want answers to this puzzling and disturbing case, or you believe that Darlie is innocent, you may help by contributing to her defense.  Donations go to the following address:

Donations can be sent to;
Attn: Lauren Schmidt
Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, LLP
410 Seventeenth Street, Suite 2200
Denver, CO 80202- USA

Donations must include Darlie Routier’s name on the bottom.

Find out more:

Click here to go to a comprehensive site containing information about Darlie’s case.

Why abolish the felony murder rule?

Cristian Fernandez and Curtis Shuler

Cristian Fernandez and Curtis Shuler

Some laws in this country sound really good on paper and make sense in theory. However, when a number of these laws are applied to real life situations they become incredibly unjust. The felony murder law is an example of such legislation.

In a previous post I outlined some of the people in America who have been negatively impacted by the felony murder rule as juveniles. To reiterate, this law gives prosecutors the ability to hold all parties involved in circumstances leading to a murder accountable to the fullest extent of the law. At first, this sounds reasonable enough. If two or more people commit a burglary and someone is murdered in the process both people must be held accountable right? Most would agree that makes sense.

What if you were 20 years old and you spent a night drinking and partying, only to be awaken by a roommate at some point, asking if they could borrow your car to go steal some weed from someone? Now imagine that you had loaned your car many times to the same person, you’re too hung over to really think about what they are saying, and you give permission for them to take the car again. You then go back to sleep.

Your roommate takes some friends and drives about a mile away to steal marijuana from a man who sells it. During the attempted robbery, the 18 year old daughter of the weed dealer is murdered. The men who committed the crime are apprehended and then the next thing you know you are being charged with felony murder.

You cannot imagine you will be convicted because you never had any idea a murder would occur and you had loaned your car to your roommate in the past without negative consequences. You figure that if you are guilty of anything it is of knowing that the roommates might steal some marijuana.

Regardless of this you are charged with the crimes associated with both the robbery and the murder. After all, it was your car they used to participate in the crime. No car, no crime, the prosecutor tells you. But what about the marijuana? If the dealer hadn’t kept weed in his house the crime wouldn’t have occurred either, right? That’s not how the prosecutor sees it though.

You do not believe you will be convicted of felony murder. It is equated with first degree murder in terms of sentencing and first degree murder involves malice and premeditation. You never intended for anyone to die because you never knew the murder would take place to begin with. You weren’t even there. Surely you will not be convicted and sentenced as if you had been there, and were as culpable as the person who committed the murder.

However, when presented with the information a jury finds that you were culpable in the robbery because you loaned your car to the person who committed it. The jury does not have to find you guilty of first degree murder because you are facing felony murder where your involvement in the robbery, no matter how minimal, makes you just as culpable as the person who murdered the 18 year old girl.

You are convicted and sentenced to life without parole. You now reside in a Florida prison, where you will remain for the rest of your life unless something significant happens to change your fate.

Which is unlikely.

The above sounds unrealistic, right? It sounds like something I made up. It isn’t though. The above is what happened to 20 year old Ryan Holle in 2003. He received a life without parole sentence for his role in a murder he never even knew would happen. The prosecutor could have taken him to court on a lesser charge, but he chose not to do it.

This is why the felony murder rule is dangerous. Prosecutors abuse this law. Juveniles and young adults across the country have experienced the consequences of this unjust legislation, ranging from Cristian Fernandez who was charged with felony murder at age 12 and will receive life without parole if convicted at trial to Curtis Shuler who was charged at 16. Curtis was sentenced to life without parole for a murder that the two other convicted perpetrators have since said he did not do. They both say he was not even there.

Those who support the felony murder rule say it acts as a deterrent. I disagree. In my effort to raise awareness about Cristian Fernandez’s case I have encountered countless people who have no understanding of how Florida’s mandatory minimums work. Many do not understand that if convicted, the judge will have no choice in Cristian’s case but to sentence him to life without parole. The felony murder rule in Florida requires a person to receive life in prison without parole or the death penalty. At 12, Cristian was too young to receive the death penalty.

How can a law act as a deterrent if people in this country do not even understand it or how it works? It simply can’t.

There are mechanisms in place to punish people for their role in a crime. The felony murder rule is completely unnecessary and provides prosecutors like Florida State Attorney Angela Corey with the legal ability to obtain life without parole sentences for children and teenagers.

It has to stop. Melissa Shuler is Curtis’s wife. She has been fighting tirelessly for her husband for a long time. We decided to join forces in working toward abolishing the felony murder rule, beginning in Florida where some of the more egregious injustices have occurred, and continue to occur, because of it.

We are asking for fair justice. Smart justice. The felony murder doctrine is neither.

Please join us in our effort. We will be campaigning in a variety of ways over time to end this unjust law and bring attention to its casualties.

Ways to Help:

Join us in our effort by signing the petition to end the felony murder law in Florida by clicking here.

You can join our event on facebook here.

Please share the petition with friends and other people who will help us raise awareness and express to Florida legislators that we would like to join states like Michigan, Kentucky, and Hawaii in eliminating this legislation.

Learn More:

This website outlines information about the legislation:

Watch the documentary “Reckless Indifference” to learn about Brandon Hein and how the felony murder rule affected several teenagers in California. Netflix offer this documentary in the streaming version as well as on DVD.

Watch “Unequal Justice” online here and learn about another example of how the felony murder rule has failed to produce appropriate justice.

The felony murder rule

Ryan Holle

Ryan Holle

In 2003, Ryan Holle was 20 years old. He had been partying the night before and was hungover and tired when a friend asked to borrow his car. Ryan handed his keys over in a decision that probably ranks as the one of the worst he ever made.

Ryan’s friend used the car to drive three other people to steal a safe from a marijuana dealer’s home in Pensacola, Florida. The burglary resulted in the murder of the dealer’s 18 year old daughter, Jessica Snyder.

At trial the prosecutor, David Rimmer, justified charging Ryan by saying he knew a burglary was going to occur. He made the statement that “no car equals no crime, no consequences, and no murder.” Ryan testified at trial, saying that there had been talk about a burglary but he had not taken it seriously. He was hungover from the night before and the discussion wasn’t registering.

Police statements appeared to indicate that Ryan  had knowledge the men intended to burglarize a home. This was what gave the prosecuting attorney ammunition to charge Ryan as an accomplice to the murder. Ryan had no criminal record. Lending his car to his housemate and friend was not an unusual practice for him either. He had done it previously a number of times. However, when the burglary of a home about a mile and a half away from Ryan’s location resulted in murder, Florida law made it possible to charge him as a direct participant.

Ryan stood trial and received the exact same sentence as the two men who witnessed Jessica’s murder, and the man who directly perpetrated it: life without parole.

Knowing a burglary might occur and anticipating a murder are two very different things from a common sense perspective, but they can be one in the same according to many states’ laws. The crime is referred to as felony murder and it comes in many forms.

Three states have abolished the felony murder rule, including Kentucky, Hawaii, and Michigan. Though the majority of states still have this law or a variation of it, some states implement a harsher application of the law than others. Florida is a prime example.

The felony murder rule has been examined by a number of programs and documentaries. Unequal Justice, which can be viewed online, describes Joseph Donovan’s case and his sentencing to life without parole. The most shocking component of this story is that the person who did the stabbing was released from prison, while the other continues to serve time. Unless something significant changes, he will remain there until he dies.

Joseph Donovan was 17 at the time the crime was committed. He was tried for murder because he started the fight that resulted in 15 year old Shon McHugh stabbing Yngve Raustein. 18 year old Alfredo Velez was also a participant. The victim’s friend, Arne Fredheim, witnessed the murder. Arne told the New England Cable News the following:

In my opinion, [Donovan] did participate in the incident that caused the murder, but he is not a murderer. I feel sorry for him. Being punished for life for something that you did as a 17 year old boy? To me, that’s not justice. That’s wrong.

Joseph Donovan

Joseph Donovan

Joseph was the only one of the three convicted of felony murder. This is why he remains in prison for a crime committed in 1992, while the other two participants are free. Shon was released after a 10 year sentence. Alfredo took a plea deal. Joseph was offered a plea deal for second degree murder also; however, when he asked his mother if he should take it she told him that if she were in his place and was not responsible for the murder of another person, she would not take the deal. She said that doing that was like admitting to doing something you did not do. Joseph accepted her advice and rejected the plea deal.

A documentary, Reckless Indifference, describes another situation case where the felony rule was applied to juveniles. Five teenagers, ranging from 15 to 18 years of age, were involved in a fistfight that resulted in the stabbing of 16 year old Jimmy Farris and 17 year old Michael McLoren. Michael survived his injuries, but Jimmy did not.

A summary from the 2001 California Court of Appeals indicates that one of the teenagers, Jason Holland, was carrying a knife. The summary states that there was no evidence indicating that the other teens knew he had a knife. Three of the teens involved in the event received life without parole. Micah Holland, who was 15, received 29 years to life. 17 year old Christopher Velardo pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, combined with conspiracy to commit robbery. In 2000, Christopher was released from prison. Brandon Hein, one of the teenagers involved, was interviewed in the above documentary.

The felony murder doctrine is the reason 13 year old Cristian Fernandez faces life without parole for a crime he was charged with at just 12 years of age. Jurors are not informed that those being tried in accordance with this law will receive life without parole. Instead, some jurors have later stated they thought the verdict would result in a lighter sentence.

Carolyn Butterworth was one of the jurors who deliberated on the jury for Joseph Donovan. She later stated, “People in our juror pool said ‘he’ll get out in a few years.'” She now realizes this was not true then and it still isn’t true since Joseph remains in prison.

Is this what will happen to Cristian? Will the jury find him guilty of aggravated battery, without realizing that the combination of the battery charge with murder makes it applicable under the felony murder rule? Do people realize that felony murder is treated like first degree murder but that a prosecutor does not need to prove the death was premeditated?

Some media outlets, like the Florida Times Union, do not seem to like to print that he faces the mandatory sentence of life without parole. Considering that their readership lives in the same city containing Cristian’s future jury pool I’d say that if he is convicted and given this egregious sentence it would be fair to say they played some role in it. Especially since they have been informed of this issue and they ignore it.

However, one of Cristian’s defense attorneys, Hank Coxe, has stated it outright. As have others.

How many times has the media played a role in someone’s overly harsh sentencing or wrongful conviction?

I guess that’s another blog article for another time.

More stories of people sentenced according to the felony murder rule may be found here.

1 in 45: America’s homeless children and what you can do to end it

a homeless child

A homeless child sleeping on street

America is the richest country in the world and yet 1 in 45 children living in the states is homeless. The problem of homelessness impacts about 1.6 million children. Most of the children who are homeless are under the age of 7.

The problem of homelessness among children is getting worse instead of better. In 2010, the increase in the number of homeless children surpassed the record set in 2006, following the displacement of thousands of families as a result of natural disasters such as hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The current state of the economy has contributed to the problem immensely. Many states have cut money and allocations that go toward ending the problem of homelessness.

Ellen Bassuk, president of the National Center on Family Homelessness, stated the following:

If you believe that children are the future of our country, then you should be concerned because these homeless children have gradually become a prominent part of a third world that is emerging in our own backyards.

The problem is that these children are invisible to many. The problem is growing and more children are suffering as a result. The consequences are deadly for many and devastating for the rest. Children experiencing homelessness suffer from poor health, hunger, and very limited chances to receive an education.

homeless children in America

Homeless children in America

Failing to address homelessness among children is not only inhumane, it is expensive. The costs associated with treating acute and chronic illnesses affecting the homeless are significant. The long-term costs far exceed what it would cost to increase programs such as Housing First and other initiatives designed to provide stable housing.

Another major issue is that studies show children who experience homelessness are much more likely go participate in future crime.  The Youth Law Center previously reported in reference to former foster children who later become homeless: “Lack of stability and a permanent home are evident in the extraordinarily high incidence of substance abuse, homelessness and psychological problems among former foster children.” Homelessness among children contributes to juvenile and adult crime.

The problem has significant short-term and long-term consequences. It can no longer be ignored.

Now that you know about this problem affecting America’s children, you can start taking action to help these children and make a real difference in their lives. Here is a list of actions you can take to work toward remedying the problem:

  • Find out if your state or area has a 10-year plan to end homelessness. These plans are good to review before seeking ways to help homeless children.
  • Write letters and emails to your local legislators and policymakers urging them to make homeless children and families a priority. State legislators and the Governor of your state are a great place to start.
  • Including information and stories from your area can help to strengthen your message. Look for local perspectives on the topic in the form of articles or other information to share with legislators and policymakers.
  • Ask your friends and family to write similar letters. Keep the message consist, compelling, and clear. Ask them to make child homelessness a priority. Ask for more money allocated to programs such as those that provide stable housing for these children.
  • Make phone calls to legislators and policymakers. Ask friends, family, and coworkers to do the same. When these individuals receive a number of calls they are more likely to bring the topic to the attention of the person you are trying to reach. Leaving messages with staff or on voicemail is effective also.
  • Contact the whitehouse and ask the federal government to make child homelessness a top priority: or call 202-456-1111.
  • Look for local organizations that address child homelessness. Offer your help in any form you can (time, money, etc.).
  • Provide meals, toys, clothing, and other items for children who are homeless.
  • Ask local churches and businesses to get involved in helping homeless children. Provide them with information about the extent of the problem.
  • Use social media to spread the message. Share this video, articles related to child homelessness, organization websites working to end child homelessness, and other resources to raise more awareness about the problem and what people can do.

These children need you to raise your voice and speak for them. If everyone takes action we can dramatically decrease the number of homeless children suffering in the United States.

Please do your part and encourage others to do the same.

Learn more at The Campaign to End Child Homelessness and The National Center on Family Homelessness.


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