Darlie Routier Trial: 1997

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Darlie Routier Trial: 1997

Defendant: Darlie Lynn Routier
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Doug Mulder
Chief Prosecutor: Greg Davis
Judge: Mark Tolle
Place: Kerrville, Texas
Dates of Trial: January 6-February 1, 1997
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death

SIGNIFICANCE: Young mother Darlie Routier did the unthinkable: she murdered her two sons in cold blood. This grizzly capital murder case, built on detailed, abundant and damning circumstantial evidence, continues to roil emotions, generate national publicity and raise lingering doubts of guilt. Recent findings may lead to a new trial. Meanwhile, Routier awaits death by lethal injection in a Dallas prison. She is one of only a handful of women on America's death row.

Why would a mother savagely murder her own flesh and blood? The prosecution in the murder trial of Darlie Routier had a simple explanation: Here was an immature, materialistic, manipulating young woman with low selfesteem who saw her lavish lifestyle slipping away. She not only blamed her two young sons for the family's deteriorating economic state, she saw their deaths as a means to turn things around.

So in the middle of the night of June 6, 1996, Routier (pronounced "Rueteer"), 27, took a butcher knife from the kitchen of their grand, Georgian-design home in a fashionable Rowlett, Texas neighborhood. She tiptoed into the den where sons Devon, 6, and Damon, 5, lay sleeping after watching television late with mom. Then she repeatedly stabbed the boys, tearing into their chests, lungs, and abdomens. Devon died immediately. Damon lay on the floor, painfully struggling for air. Husband Darin, 28, and six-month-old son Drake, asleep upstairs, heard nothing.

Records show that Darlie called Rowlett police at 2:31 a.m., screaming that someone had broken into her home and stabbed her and her children. "My boys are dying!" she said. "My boys are dying!"

A House Stained by Blood

Police officers arrived minutes later and were horrified by the carnage. Routier, clad in a blood-soaked nightshirt, bled profusely from her throat but was still on her feet. Instead of tending to the suffering Damon, as police asked her to do, she kept screaming to police that the attacker might be hiding in the garage. Damon drew his last bloody breath as a paramedic frantically tried to save him.

A K-9 team and police searched the house. Investigators found no one in the garage. A trail of blood went from the den, through the kitchen, and into the garage, but mysteriously disappeared in front of a garage window. Police saw that the window screen had been sliced open, but they found no blood on the windowsill. In fact, dust on the sill lay undisturbed, as did the damp soil just beyond the window.

The gory trail that began in the Routier den then crossed into the kitchen, where a bloody butcher knife lay on a counternext to Routier's unopened purse and several pieces of expensive jewelry. Blood glistened on a countertop around the sink and on the floor. A vacuum cleaner lay on its side.

Officers immediately noted that the kitchen sink itself appeared suspiciously clean. After they sprayed the area with Luminol and turned off the lights, however, the entire sink basin and surrounding counters glowed with blood. Officers also found a small child's bloody handprint on the leatherette sofa in the den. Someone apparently had wiped it away.

Investigators found no signs of forced entry at the Routier house. They discovered a bread knife in the kitchen that they later believed had been used to slice open the garage window. Police noted the crime scene showed virtually no sign of a violent struggle. They found only a lampshade askew and a bunch of flowers on the den floor. The flowers' fragile stems remained unbroken, as if they had been placed on the floor instead of thrown. Blood underneath the vacuum in the kitchen indicated it had been overturned after blood was splattered on the floor.

Officers on the scene came to one, unanimous conclusion: There was no intruder into the Routier home on the night of June 6, 1996. Someone had staged the crime scene. Darlie Routier was lying.

On June 18, police arrested Routier for the first-degree murder of her sons. Prosecutors decided to try her only for Demon's murder. If she received a life sentence in that trial, or if she were found innocent, the state then would try her for Devon's killing.

News media swarmed into Kerrville. Judge Mark Tolle issued a gag order, which Darlie immediately violated, granting an emotional radio interview from her jail cell.

Deadly or Doting Mother?

At Routier's trial six months later, police and paramedics painstakingly presented their theory that the woman who seemed the doting mother of two, indulged boys actually was their cunning murderer. FBI special agent Al Brantley also pointed out that an intruder bent on harming an adult simply wouldn't attack vulnerable children first. He believed that "someone who knew these children very well murdered them."

Testimony from staff members at Baylor Hospital where the boys' bodies were taken and where Routier was treated for her wounds, buttressed that conclusion. No one at Baylor saw Routier cry, even when she encountered Damon's nude, mangled body. She never asked about her children.

Coroner Janice Townsend-Parchman testified that Routier's superficial neck wounds appeared inflicted in a slow, hesitant manner, most likely by Routier herself. The deep, multiple wounds on the boys, however, showed the attack on them was personal. An evidence expert testified that the sons' blood on Routier's nightshirt was literally sprayed onto her while she was executing upswing motions, such as stabbing and slicing.

A parade of Darlie Routier's acquaintances revealed the Routiers' dark side. Things apparently weren't happy at the two-story, brick home on Eagle Drive with the Jaguar parked out front, the 27-foot cabin cruiser nearby, and the kids playing happily in the yard. Witnesses testified about the Routiers' marital discord, punctuated by ugly public fights and mutual cheating. Others painted Routier as an impatient, angry mother who often left her children unsupervised. At Devon's fifth birthday party, she shoved a piece of cake in his face when he squirted her with a watergun. She opted for size EE breast implants. Friends called her "Shop-Till-You-Drop Darlie." Routier also suffered postpartum depression after her third son's birth.

Witnesses testified about the couple's financial crises. Business had dropped at their company, which tested circuit boards for computer manufacturers. Bills were mounting. Their bank recently denied the Routiers a $5,000 loan.

Possibly the most damaging testimony came in the form of a video. Rowlett police had secretly taped a post-mortum, graveside birthday party Routier had thrown for Devon just days after his death. As the minister began a somber eulogy, Routier lightheartedly sprayed a can of silly string over the grave. Laughing and chewing bubble gum, she sang "Happy Birthday."

Expert defense witnesses, however, characterized Routier's bizarre actions as normal for many who are severely traumatized. Forensic Psychologist Dr. Lisa Clayton also supported Routier's story of the murders. She said Routier exhibited the typical blackouts and distorted memory of people who experience a profound trauma and are forced to give clear descriptions of it soon after the event.

Bexor County medical examiner Dr. Vincent DiMaio skillfully shed doubt on statements that Darlie's wounds were self-inflicted. He said her throat slash came within two millimeters of the carotid artery. Bruises on her arms could indicate she fended off an attacker.

Others who took the stand in Routier's defense were mostly character witnesses. They portrayed Routier as a doting mom, saying she was devastated by her sons' deaths and grieved appropriately.

Unfortunately for Routier's defense, however, the defendant herself took the stand, despite her lawyers' objections. After she told her version of the crime and insisting she was a good mother, Prosecutor Greg Davis tore into her story with a vengeance. He reduced Routier to a sobbing, stuttering, stammering woman.

Jurors deliberated only four hours before returning a guilty verdict. Three days later, Routier was sentenced to death. The young mother had no tears.

In the years since Darlie's conviction, renewed media attentionincluding an investigation by the television news program 20/20 has raised questions about her guilt. Among the media findings: Jurors received a trial transcript with 33,000 errors and omissions; jurors never saw photographs of Routier's arm bruises; and an unidentified bloody fingerprint was found on the Routiers' kitchen counter after the murder.

Routier's supporters are fighting for a new trial.

B. J. Welborn

Suggestions for Further Reading

"Darlie Routier: Doting Mother/Deadly Mother." Crime Library Crime Story Archive, On-Line.

Davis, Barbara. Precious Angels. New York: Onyx/Penquin, 1999.

Verhovek, Sam Howe. "Dallas Woman Is Sentenced to Death in Murder of Son." New York Times (February 5, 1997): A12.