It is almost time for me to head to the luncheon at the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas. Kenneth circles back to something he had mentioned earlier in our eighty-minute conversation: his feeling that he is partly to blame for Routier being on death row. “The only thing that I regret is not having pushed more, but what could I do? Darlie would call the house from jail back then. She’d call and I’d answer. It’d be a three-dollar collect call; we got those all the time. I wish I had just convinced Darlie that she needed to take control of it. I wish she could have talked to (attorney Peter) Lesser. I was encouraging Darin, and Melanie was talking to Mama Darlie. I think we were so afraid about Darlie’s mental state. You would have to get her to set all that emotion aside long enough to tell her, ‘This is the real deal now. The kids aren’t coming back. This is the real deal now.’ For a few seconds, there is a pause in our conversation, as if we’ve been carrying something heavy and need to set it down. There is a cacophony of cheerful noise in the red-and-yellow land of Happy Meals, but Kenneth and I are not smiling. For the first time, I notice how loudly music from bygone eras is playing over the speaker system. As the two of us sit looking at each other in silence, The Friends of Distinction begin singing “Grazing in the Grass.” Everything here is so clear, you can see it.
Darkness Falls in Arkansas
It is a cold weekday in February and I am writing a story for the next HCN issue when Bonnie rounds the corner by my cubicle as she makes her daily rounds. “Mail for you.” She hands me another letter from Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) inmate #999220 – Darlie Routier. I open it to find that Darlie has sent me a letter she had received from a male inmate in Tennessee Colony. Darlie receives a good deal of correspondence. This is not surprising, considering her attractiveness, the made-for-TV aspects of the shocking crime for which she was sent to death row, and the lingering doubts about her guilt. The reason she paid attention to this particular letter was because the man had written to her once before – fifteen years earlier. Now, here he was again, making the same claims about an argument he overheard in the recreation yard at the Potter County Jail in Amarillo in the fall of 1996. Darlie’s concern about the mysterious letter, which was written by a man serving a sentence for murder, causes me to take an unexpected detour in my re-examination of her case, but that’s what often happens in this line of work. Reporters take side streets off main thoroughfares because dark characters, and the secrets they hold, can lurk in the shadows of roads less traveled. Those detours often do little more than circle back or lead to dead ends. But not always.
Til Death Do Us Part
In Greek mythology, sailors would be lured to coastlines by the angelic singing voices of beautiful sirens, only to shipwreck against the perilous rocks. The largest coffee house company in the world adopted the image of a mythical mermaid siren to seduce java lovers into its twenty-one thousand stores. It is 10:00 a.m. on a sunny spring Monday when Darin Routier walks under the familiar logo and through the doors of one of those coffeehouses. We are meeting at the Starbucks at 82nd and Quaker in Lubbock. He moved back to his hometown six years after the conviction of his now ex-wife, Darlie Routier. When they had met here in Lubbock she was fifteen and he was seventeen. Darin had been immediately captivated by the blonde beauty who, like the mythical sirens, had a lovely singing voice. She was different. Some have described her as ahead of her time. She wore dresses more often than most other girls did, but seemed equally comfortable in a T-shirt and shorts. But those breezy days were long ago – back before June 6, 1996, dashed the young couple and their families against the rocks. While few people might call Darin Routier lucky, he has managed to arrive at middle age no worse or wear. Some might call him handsome. His hair, now with a touch of salt and pepper, brushes his shoulders. The blue of his eyes is enhanced by the morning sun spilling in through the glass windows of the bustling café. His demeanor is laid back and friendly. I am casual and friendly, too, but my outward demeanor belies my inner thoughts. During our conversation, I silently reflect upon what others have told me about their suspicions that Darin was likely involved in what happened to his wife and children. “All roads lead to Darin,” one source had told me.
Every morning at 4:00 a.m., a chaotic din emanates from cellblocks inside the bowels of the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, making the prison sound like a mental asylum. Female inmates – some suicidal – scream and sob. Some manage to find something with which to cut themselves. Others deliberately create bedlam by clogging toilets to cause flooding. “Where we’re living, there’s no peace,” Lisa Coleman tells me, she on one side of the glass and cinder block, me on the other. On the day of our interview, Coleman is one of only ten women on Texas’ death row. At the time of this writing, the number has dropped to eight, and Coleman is likely to be next. Despite the chaos that greets each dawn, a calmer, softer noise radiates from a run of cells that house Coleman and four other death-row inmates, including Darlie Routier. Before the sun peeks over the horizon, the women, though in separate cells, start the day with scripture reading and prayer. In the years since Routier arrived on death row, there has been no sign of the psychopathy claimed by then-Dallas County assistant district attorney Greg Davis. “She’s a psychopath!” the lead prosecutor had told television news reporters. But is she?
Dateline: Purgatory examining the case the sentenced darlie routier to death
From the chapter “Thunder Rolls”: “I had always been promised I could make global, specific objections to the record in what would have been the biggest hearing that would have ever occurred in Darlie’s case. And he cancelled it at four o’clock in the afternoon the day before the hearing,” [Appellate attorney Stephen] Cooper says. “I was going to blow up his efforts to have this record reconstructed. Because I was not allowed to have that hearing, I wouldn’t get into the record the things that were necessary to get into the record. And then the Court of Criminal Appeals just whitewashed it and said it was fine. “I complained loudly and frequently and repeatedly that the manner in which he [State District Judge Robert Francis] was reconstructing this record [through Simmons] was not in accordance with the law and was unfair and in denial of due process – including keeping the witness, Susan Simmons, at bay. And he promised me, ‘You can have a hearing when we’re done.’ We were friends and I trusted his word. Cameras were going to be there. Reporters from all over. The whole world was watching, and he bailed. He never called me to say why.”
The possibility that the intruder, or one of the intruders, was still in the house when all hell broke loose is one that Harrell had considered in the weeks leading up to Routier’s trial. His memo from that time states: “It would appear to me that Darin saw a man in the hallway who he thought was a police officer.... Darin was tending to Devon and shortly after the man in the hallway appeared, much confusion begins to occur. Darin is pissed off because he thinks the cop is not doing anything. He runs out to get help, and then Waddell drives up and sees him. The only conclusion is that Waddell is telling the truth, and so is Darin. Darin, expecting to see a cop, sees the intruder who is still in the house. He leaves via the front door, explaining the inconsistencies of the police. The light in the back yard does not come on because the intruder leaves via the front door. “Darlie turns her back on the [utility room] and the guy goes into the living room. No one checks out the front room. Waddell comes and sees Darin, and they both go into the house. Darin does not realize Waddell is the first cop on the scene.... Waddell is confused, as is Darin.... The problem is the cops, knowing there were inconsistencies, never looked further. They knew the inconsistencies were a problem, but they did not consider that Darin had seen the intruder.”