The stars may finally be aligning for Darlie Routier, the Rowlett homemaker who was sent to Death Row 22 years ago by a Kerrville jury thanks in part to the sexism and character judgments of male law enforcement officers and Dallas County prosecutors. Routier has always maintained innocence in the stabbing deaths of two of her three young boys at the family’s home in the early morning hours of June 6, 1996, while her then-husband, Darin Routier, and 7-month-old baby, Drake, slept unharmed upstairs.
The New York Innocence Project, now convinced that an innocent woman is languishing on Texas Death Row, has joined forces with Routier’s appellate team: Steve Cooper and Richard Smith of Dallas and Richard Burr of Houston.
Cooper and Smith met two weeks ago with the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to discuss Routier, now 49. The lawyers have found a more cooperative spirit there since Democrat John Creuzot took office on Jan. 1, Cooper said.
Just days after that meeting, I received a phone call from a producer for ABC’s 20/20, asking to do a fresh interview with me for a hastily assembled two-hour episode focusing on Routier. TCU Press published my book re-examining the case in April of 2015 (“A Tragedy of Errors,” July 1, 2015). The interview with 20/20 was conducted Sunday, and the show will air 8-10 p.m. Friday. A curiously quick turnaround.
I was told that 20/20 will mostly be using footage from last summer’s ABC docu-series The Last Defense, in which Routier’s case was spotlighted in four one-hour weekly episodes. Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project’s director of post-conviction litigation, was involved in that project and is one of two Innocence Project lawyers who will now actively work the case. The other lawyer is Bryce Benjet.
Potkin’s connection to ABC, ABC’s connection to 20/20, and the recent meeting at the DA’s office leave me wondering whether something might be about to break in the case. If so, Cooper isn’t saying. He explained the confab at the DA’s office as “a meeting about a number of issues that we’ve been discussing with the DA’s office, some for a long time and some recently. And we’re trying to work through, cooperatively, some new scientific testing to be done and some reports to review.”
Routier has always claimed that she and her children were attacked by an unknown intruder. She herself sustained several injuries, including a slash across her throat that missed her carotid artery by just 2 millimeters. Prosecutors who took the case to trial claimed then and have claimed ever since that she inflicted the injuries herself.
It remains to be seen whether those recent issues and the “reports to review” referenced by Cooper involve the DNA testing that has been ongoing since 2008, though Cooper has said there is little chance of a meaningful finding in that regard. Any DNA found from an unknown person must be proven to be connected to the crime.
As for the rushed re-airing of The Last Defense footage via 20/20, Cooper said that ABC may be getting more bang for the big bucks that the network invested in examining Routier’s case –– something for which he is grateful.
Even if there is nothing more going on than routine meetings and a return on a network’s investment, there is much for Routier to be excited about, and, according to Cooper, she is. He and Smith recently made a four-hour roundtrip drive to Gatesville to visit her.
The signed partnership with the Innocence Project means that Routier’s defense efforts have doubled and there is now financial backing for those efforts. The appellate team lawyers, who have worked pro bono on the case for years, have struggled to raise the money needed for all of the DNA testing they won the right to do.
The Innocence Project recently was victorious in a situation that parallels state’s evidence 85-J in Routier’s case (“#runtheprint,” Aug. 29, 2018). For 20 years, the organization fought to run through the national database a bloody fingerprint found at the scene of a rape and stabbing that occurred in Baton Rouge, La., in 1982. Archie Williams was convicted of that crime but, like Routier, always proclaimed his innocence. Years after his conviction, he wrote a letter to Innocence Project cofounder Barry Scheck pleading for help.
“We spent 20 years fighting, and it took less than eight hours” to run the print and find a match, Potkin said. Williams, she said, was home within a week.
Cooper said that Potkin and Benjet will be particularly valuable in attacking all of the forensic science presented by the state. That battle will soon be underway, he said.
The blood spatter testimony of state witness Tom Bevel was key in Routier’s conviction. His interpretation of blood stains at the crime scene convinced the jury that there had been no intruder. Routier’s lead defense attorney, Doug Mulder, committed a lethal error by not putting on the stand two blood spatter experts who had been enlisted by the court-appointed attorneys who had worked the case before he was hired. Terry Laber and Bart Epstein had reached conclusions that were very different from Bevel’s.
Mulder died in January of last year.
Texas has topped the list in exonerations nationwide, and Dallas County, at least at one time, led the nation in DNA exonerations. The brutal era of Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade spanned from 1951 to 1987, overlapping with James Cron’s career at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. Cron worked there from 1963 to 1993 before becoming a crime scene consultant. He was the expert to whom the Rowlett Police Department turned for help in the early morning hours of June 6, 1996. Cron said he determined within 20 to 30 minutes of arriving at the Routier home that there had been no intruder.
Cron died at his home in Sachse on April 24 at the age of 79, cheating Cooper of the chance to interrogate him on the witness stand if Routier’s conviction is ever overturned and she is tried again by the Dallas County District Attorney’s office.
Of course, if 85-J is run through the national database and a match pops up or if DNA tests pass the high bar of proving the presence of a man in the Routier home that night who had no business being there, there might not be another trial at all.
There is always the chance that miracles do occur, stars align, and, like Archie Williams, Routier might simply come home.