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.

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

Example of a t-shirt with blood-spatter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is, until Tom Bevel took the stand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: The timeline

The Routier house

The Routier house

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

That is, unless something is done to stop it.

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

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

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

The Timeline

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

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

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

2:30 a.m.

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

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

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

2:31 a.m.

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

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

2:32 a.m.

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

2:33 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:34 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

2:35 a.m.

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

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

2:36 a.m.

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

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

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

Further Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: Strange occurrences

Darlie, Darin, Devon, and Damon Routier

Darlie, Darin, Devon, and Damon Routier

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

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

The Attempted Break In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map showing route from Routier home to Rickels' home.

Map showing route from Routier home to Rickels’ home.

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

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

Reported Vehicle and People Sightings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The route from the Routier home to the Reed home.

The route from the Routier home to the Reed home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

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/

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.

Right?

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.