A couple of months have passed since an ABC docu-series devoted four one-hour episodes in prime time to the case of Darlie Routier, the Rowlett homemaker accused in the stabbing deaths of her two young sons and sent to Death Row in February 1997 (“Defending Darlie,” June 6). As summer begins to fade into fall, Darlie’s widespread supporters are keeping the heat turned up on the Dallas County justice system that they believe wrongfully convicted her through sexist character judgments, tunnel vision, and junk science.
Organizers say they are coordinating with both the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Dallas Police Department on three consecutive days of marches outside the Frank Crowley Courts Building on North Riverfront Boulevard, across R.L. Thornton Freeway from downtown Dallas. The protests are set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Oct. 12-14. The Friday march will be from noon until 6 p.m. and the weekend demonstrations from noon until 3 p.m. October was chosen so that participants would not have to endure the Texas summer heat. Plans are still evolving, but at the time of this writing, the RSVPs stand at about 100, according to Michelle Nelson of Tampa, Florida, a former long-time factory worker now pursuing a degree in psychology.
Travel expenses will put a strain on the budgets of many who are planning or hoping to attend, she said. Kristine Bunch of Indianapolis, Indiana, is hoping to be able to save enough money by then to make the trip. Bunch, who was wrongfully convicted of setting a fire that killed her young son, was interviewed on camera for the docu-series, The Last Defense. She said that, like Darlie, she was judged on her appearance and even the song she chose to play at her son’s funeral, a Bon Jovi number. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” a favorite of the Routier boys, was played at their service and was used against Darlie by prosecutors, even though the song had nothing to do with whether she had killed her children.
“I believe in Darlie’s innocence, and I want others to hear me speak for her,” said Bunch, who was jailed almost exactly one year prior to Darlie’s arrest. Bunch served 17 years in prison before the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered that she be given a new trial. The prosecution ultimately dropped the charges.
Appellate attorney Stephen Cooper of Dallas calls the effort on Darlie’s behalf “amazing.”
“This story has always been global and certainly national,” he said. “Regular, run-of-the-mill, non-activist people take this to heart and choose to not sit on their couch and [to] actually do something.”
Cooper said that public opinion has “turned significantly” in his client’s favor since the airing of The Last Defense. ABC devoted considerably more airtime to Darlie than other television shows that have focused on her case over the years, which resulted in more information being presented to the public. Previous shows were single episodes, and most encompassed one hour, commercials included.
The case is so problematic, though, that even ABC’s multiple episodes didn’t cover everything. For instance, court reporter Sandra Halsey’s trial transcript was riddled with an unprecedented 33,000 errors – 40 to 50 percent of which were deemed “substantive” by a court reporter appointed by then-state District Judge Robert Francis to clean it up. Still, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accepted the cobbled-together version, even though the Francis-appointed court reporter had not been present at the trial.
Activists will march against what they view as the overall unfairness behind Darlie’s conviction and death sentence, but they also will make a specific demand: that the state run through the FBI’s database a partial fingerprint found in blood at the Eagle Drive crime scene. The partial print was on a sofa table near the family room couch where Darlie said she had been sleeping on the night of June 6, 1996, when an unknown intruder attacked her and her two oldest boys. Devon, 6, and Damon, 5, were asleep on the floor in front of the television.
Baby Drake, then almost 8 months, was asleep upstairs with his father, Darin. They were unharmed. Darlie, though, wasn’t. Her throat was slashed to within two millimeters of her carotid artery, and her right forearm was cut to the bone. She also had other knife injuries, such as cuts across the underside of her fingers. University of Kentucky forensic pathologist Greg Davis stated on camera for The Last Defense that the cuts on her arm and fingers were clearly defensive wounds and that, in his view, none of her injuries were self-inflicted.
Rowlett police and Dallas County prosecutors (one of whom is also named Greg Davis) convinced a jury in conservative Kerrville that Darlie had inflicted the injuries upon herself in the staging of the crime scene, taking care not to damage her breast implants. The sexism used to judge the then-26-year-old wife and mother and the state’s illogical theory about her were the subject of my 2015 book, Dateline: Purgatory –– Examining the Case that Sentenced Darlie Routier to Death, published by TCU Press.
Darlie’s appellate attorneys –– Cooper, Richard Smith, and Richard Burr –– believe that the bloody partial fingerprint known as state’s evidence 85-J may belong to the real killer. If so, his fingerprints could be in the national Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The case could conceivably be solved simply by running the print.
Crime scene investigator James Cron testified at trial that the print could belong to a child –– presumably, one of the dead boys –– but Darlie’s appellate lawyers have argued otherwise. In 2008, then-U.S. District Judge Royal Ferguson of the Western District of Texas granted the appellate team’s motion for discovery, allowing for additional DNA testing and the running of the fingerprint through AFIS. However, the DNA testing, which was granted at the state level by the Court of Criminal Appeals and is still ongoing due to backlogged labs, put a temporary halt to federal proceedings, which has left 85-J hanging for a decade now.
At the time the brakes were put on 85-J, the state was arguing that it had no authority to run the print through the national database and could not do so without risking its future access to that system, since 85-J does not involve an active case. Cooper said that the Department of Justice later sent an advisory stating that the agency is not a party in the proceedings and therefore cannot be ordered to run the print.
Organizers of the marches are hoping that the public will view the government’s stonewalling of 85-J as an absurd and grave injustice. The Crowley Courts Building won’t be open for two of the three days they’ll be protesting, but Nelson noted that demonstrators will be in view of passing motorists. The scheduling, she said, was done in such a way as to accommodate supporters who will be traveling from as far away as Canada.
Nelson conceived of the hashtag #runtheprint to call attention to the marches and also created a website, Teamfreedarlie-march.webnode.com, where details about the demonstrations are posted and will be updated if needed.
Although some Darlie allies hooked up with one another online after watching The Last Defense, a number have been convinced of her innocence for years. Nelson said she connected with Texas defender Stephanie Hopkins a year ago after doing an online search for supporters. She said she has been concerned about the case since about 2000, when she spotted a magazine with photos of Darlie’s injuries at a grocery store in Des Arc, Arkansas, her hometown.
“I picked up the magazine, and I read it,” Nelson said. “And I thought, ‘This woman is innocent.’ ”