This story is the fifth in a series, Unrequited Innocence, that looks at cases where people were sentenced to die and have not been exonerated despite significant evidence of innocence.
Responding to Darlie Lynn Routier’s frantic 911 call from her Dallas County home in 1996, police found her two sons, Devon Routier, 6, and Damon Routier, 5, dying of stab wounds.
There were knife wounds to Routier’s neck, forearm and shoulder. A broken wine glass lay on the ground, and there was a torn window screen in the garage. A bloodied knife lay on the kitchen counter.
Routier told police that she had fallen asleep on a downstairs couch watching television, and was awakened by Damon touching her and calling her name, when she noticed an intruder in their house.
She said she told Damon to stay behind and saw a long-haired white man, wearing a baseball cap and t-shirt, and jeans, fleeing through the kitchen and out the utility room. She found the bloody knife on the ground, put it on the counter, and then realized that she and her boys had been stabbed. She said her screams awakened her husband, Darin, who was upstairs with their infant; he rushed down and tried without success to revive one of the two sons.
Less than a half hour after they arrived at the house, authorities doubted Routier’s version of events. “It was the overall scene which, primarily, is the lack of evidence in many cases. But the entire scene indicated to me there had not been an intruder,” crime scene consultant James Cron testified.
In the police telling, she had staged a break-in, murdered her sons and cut her own throat, all to collect on the boys’ $5,000 life insurance policies.
Days after the murders, a local television station ran a clip of Routier smiling and spraying Silly String on the boys’ balloon-covered grave, singing “Happy Birthday” on what would have been Devon’s seventh birthday. “Even though our hearts are breaking, I know that Devon and Damon would want us to be happy,” she told the station.
The clip “sickened” Dallas County District Attorney Greg Davis, “because it had only been a week since these boys’ deaths and yet we’ve got a full-blown birthday party out there at the gravesite. And it really struck me as more than curious,” he said in a television interview.
She was charged with capital murder days later.
At trial, the prosecution presented a timeline showing that Routier stabbed Devon and Damon before staging the scene by breaking a wine glass, cutting the screen in the garage, planting a bloody sock down an alley 75 yards away, and finally stabbing herself in the arms and throat. In addition, the state based its case on presenting as evidence details that went to the kind of mother Routier was: Prosecutors Toby Shook played a 15-second clip of Routier happily spraying Silly String on Devon’s grave, and told the jurors the scene “gives you a lot of insight into this woman. You see, this is not a picture of a grieving mother.”
The State called witnesses to highlight that Routier had breast implants, did not take her children to church often, went out with girlfriends the night before Mother’s Day and wore jewelry.
Though defense attorney Doug Mulder presented medical and psychiatric experts who said they believed she was telling the truth about the intruder and that her wounds did not appear self-inflicted, he presented no forensic testimony to rebut the State’s staging theory. Citing the lack of defense forensic evidence, Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis told the jurors in closing argument, “It speaks volumes to you sometimes what you don’t see and hear.”
The jury voted to convict Routier and sentence her to death in February 1997.
During their deliberations, juror Charles Sanford later said in an affidavit, the jury replayed the Silly String clip “eight or nine times.”
Later, Sanford saw the full video, which showed that the birthday party followed a solemn prayer service and was done as a way to mourn for the children. “Had we been shown this other tape so that we had been able to see the whole picture of what happened that day, I believe I would not have voted to convict Mrs. Routier,” he said.
A series of post-conviction petitions, as well as a Texas Monthly investigation, have cast significant doubt on the state case.
For one thing, Routier and every known person in her house that night have been excluded as the source of a bloody fingerprint found on a coffee table, and Routier was excluded as the source of another bloody print on the door to the utility room — suggesting evidence of an intruder.
The state said a fiber found on a bread knife was evidence that Routier used it to cut the garage window screen. But that fiber also was consistent with the fiberglass brush that had previously been used to dust for fingerprints.
In the post-conviction petition, attorney Richard Burr also cast doubt on the prosecution contention that the bloody sock found in the alley had been part of the evidence staged by Routier. The athletic sock had both boys’ blood on it but none of Routier’s.
Given the pathologist’s estimate that Damon could have survived his wounds for only nine minutes, that the 911 call lasted six minutes, and that police arrived within a minute after the end of the call, that left barely over two minutes for Routier “to stab her sons, head for the garage, step through the slit in the window screen, jump a back fence or go through a back gate, run barefoot for 75 yards down an alley, drop a bloody sock, run 75 yards back, stab herself, clean up the blood around the sink, and stage whatever crime scene there was left to be staged,” as Texas Monthly put it.
There also were questions about the state’s contention that Routier had stabbed her children, then herself: There were blood stains on the back of her nightshirt that prosecution witnesses suggested had been caused by knife splatter as she performed an overhead stabbing of her sons.
Yet the droplets contained her blood as well as her sons’. Left unexplained was how her blood was on the knife as she stabbed her sons, if the state timeline was correct. Routier originally was represented by a court-appointed team that hired two forensic scientists to review the evidence from the crime scene. But before trial began, Routier replaced the team with Mulder, a prominent local defense attorney who had represented her husband and mother-in-law in a gag order hearing related to the trial.
Mulder did not present the forensic findings or that a man matching the attacker’s description was seen 10 minutes from the Routier home after 2 a.m. the night of the murders. Nor did he raise the issue that Darin, not Routier, had committed the murders, a strategy her original lawyers later said they had planned to pursue.
Texas Monthly reported post-trial that Darin admitted he had been considering an insurance scam shortly before the murders. Darin had asked Routier’s stepfather if he knew anyone who could break into the house and fake a burglary, and said it was “a possibility” he brought it up with others as well. However, a private investigator working on Routier’s appeal found no evidence he had taken the scam any further.
After the Texas state courts affirmed the conviction on direct appeal, the courts granted in 2008 on a limited basis renewed DNA testing touching off a process that has not yet been completed as of summer 2019.
When the testing is complete, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office plans to review the findings, after which Routier’s petition to overturn the verdict — first filed in 2005 — will finally move forward.