IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN DARLIE ROUTIER since she was sent to death row five and a half years ago—if your only memories of her are the glamorous photos, when her hair was platinum blond, her face was caked with makeup, and her fingers were covered with diamond rings—you might not recognize her today. She is now 32 years old. Her hair is long and chestnut brown and pulled away from her face, accentuating her cheekbones and bright hazel eyes. Her body is toned, thanks to a daily workout regimen of five hundred sit-ups in her cell and a vigorous two-hour walk in the prison yard. When she takes her seat behind the shatterproof glass in the visitors area of the Mountain View Unit, in Gatesville, she smiles pleasantly, rests her elbows on the table, and with a soft giggle says that she has been reading the latest Harry Potter book so she can talk about the plot with her youngest son, Drake, age six, the only one of her children who is still alive.
She receives a constant stream of visitors: friends and family, lawyers, journalists, and private investigators. They study her the same way the crowds at the Louvre stare through a sheet of bulletproof glass into the enigmatic eyes of the Mona Lisa. They listen to her talk in her light, sugary voice about the sympathetic letters she receives from other parents who have lost their children; about her prison job cross-stitching baby blankets that are later sold to state prison employees; about the stories that she reads in Parenting magazine, which she receives every month; and about her disbelief that she is still in prison. “Why is this happening to me,” she says with a catch in her throat. “Why is it so hard for people to see the truth?”
On June 6, 1996, Devon Routier, who was six, and Damon, five, were murdered as they slept on the ground floor of the family’s well-kept brick home in Rowlett, a suburb east of Dallas. Devon was stabbed twice in the chest with such force that the knife almost went all the way through his body; Damon was stabbed half a dozen or more times in the back. Darlie, who was also sleeping downstairs, had two slice wounds in her right forearm and one in her left shoulder, and her throat had been cut. Doctors said she survived only because the knife stopped two millimeters short of her carotid artery.
In a written statement given to the police a few days later, Darlie, then 26, told the following story: She was awakened by Damon’s cries of “Mommy! Mommy!” In the dark, she didn’t even notice she was hurt. She saw a man moving through the kitchen and followed him as he went toward the garage. When she got to the utility room, she saw a knife and picked it up. Only then, she said, did she return to find Devon and Damon and realize that she had been stabbed too. Darlie’s husband, Darin, who was sleeping upstairs with their infant son, Drake, came downstairs after hearing his wife’s screams and began administering CPR to Devon. By then, the assailant had disappeared.
Twelve days after Damon’s and Devon’s deaths, the police arrested Darlie for their murders. They had no eyewitnesses, no confession, and no motive. What they did have was an intriguing trail of circumstantial evidence that suggested there was no intruder that night; physical evidence suggesting that Darlie had staged the crime; doctors’ statements suggesting her wounds were self-inflicted; and a peculiar scene caught on videotape a few days after the murders. On what would have been Devon’s seventh birthday, Darlie drove to the cemetery with family and friends, wished her son a happy birthday, and then sprayed Silly String all over his grave. “Here’s a mother who has supposedly been the victim of a violent crime,” said Dallas County assistant district attorney Greg Davis, the lead prosecutor in the case. “She has just lost two children, and yet she’s out literally dancing on their graves.”
Within eight months of the crime, Darlie was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury in the Hill Country town of Kerrville, where the trial had been moved. She seemed destined to be remembered as yet another stressed-out mother who had suddenly spiraled out of control. Three true-crime paperbacks, published in the year after her conviction, characterized her as the embodiment of evil. But over the years, numerous news stories and an ongoing investigation by Darlie’s appellate attorneys have raised questions about what really happened that night: Could it be that the police and the prosecutors manipulated the evidence to implicate someone they decided must have done it? A growing chorus of observers of the case believes so. At least half a dozen Web sites have been set up to proclaim Darlie’s innocence (one of them, fordarlieroutier.org, has received more than seven and a half million hits since January 2000). A juror from her original trial now says that he and his fellow jurors made the wrong decision. The author of one of the true-crime books has also changed her mind, claiming the jury heard perjured testimony and was never shown photos that would have proved Darlie was a victim of a savage attack.
Even the most experienced legal hands have found themselves sucked in by the Routier saga. This past March, in oral arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals into whether procedural flaws were made during the original trial, the nine judges began peppering lawyers with questions on other aspects of the case. Was there an insurance policy on the children, which might have given Darlie a reason to kill them? When Darlie talked to homicide detectives, did she make any kind of confession? As the hearing ended, one of the more curious judges motioned to me and asked me to point out Darlie’s mother, Darlie Kee, who had made headlines of her own for her passionate attacks on an assistant district attorney,