Defending Darlie

Wealthy Waco businessman Brian Pardo spends his time and money helping death-row inmates he believes are innocent. His efforts on behalf of Darlie Routier have raised suspicions about her husband--and about Pardo's motives.

Lack of motive was a tricky issue for the prosecution, but they dealt with it deftly. Toby Shook simply told the jury that the state was not required to prove a motive in order to prove guilt. And besides, he said, how could there be any motive that would justify killing two innocent children?

But they tried to concoct one anyway. They painted Darlie as self-centered, vain, and hopelessly materialistic. They hinted that the motive was that she was angry at Darin, upset that the "money train" had stopped and that the children were hindering her freedom and lifestyle. They even suggested she did it for the insurance money--$10,000, which paid for their funeral.

Numerous friends offered testimony that the portrait the prosecution painted of Darlie couldn't be further from the truth. Karen Neal, a neighbor, countered that Darlie was "very compassionate and very outstanding with her children." When the Neal family experienced hard financial times one year, Darlie made sure their children had plenty of gifts.

When Pardo concluded that the jury failed to convict Darlie on the evidence, he decided to put his efforts into discovering the truth. People advised him that the next step was to rule Darin out as a suspect and that he should do it by getting him to take a polygraph.

Darin originally readily agreed to do it, then canceled several sessions Pardo had scheduled. Finally, in late May, accompanied by his mother, Sarilda, and mother-in-law, "Mama Darlie" Key, Darin drove to Pardo's office to take the test. The polygraph examiner, who works for the Waco police, asked Darin four questions: Were you involved in any plan to commit a crime in your home in June of 1996? Did you, yourself, stab Darlie on June 6, 1996? Do you know exactly who left the sock in the alley? Can you name the person who stabbed your sons? The examiner concluded that Darin showed deception in his answers to all four questions. "My professional opinion is that the subject was lying," he stated.

Pardo also had a videotape of Darin's post-test interview analyzed by a voice stress expert in Houston. During this interview, he was asked if he stabbed Darlie. He grinned and said no. Pardo says the voice stress analysis concluded Darin was lying. Darlie, however, passed a similar test conducted of a videotaped interview where she professed her innocence.

Pardo has resorted to questionable techniques, from handwriting analysis to reverse speech, wherein a tape of the person talking is played backwards and his subconscious supposedly reveals all sorts of unvarnished truths. From this, Pardo thinks he's determined exactly what happened that night in the Routier household and why. Pardo is clearly creeping close to the lunatic fringe here. So far, except for satisfying some need of his to play pseudo detective, none of this amounts to much. But he recently hired Houston detective Richard Reyna to track down some promising leads.

Whatever credibility Pardo has, his latest tactics are eroding it. Except for Aunt Sandi and Darlie, no one in the Routier family is talking to him now. They almost told him to take a hike, but with an expensive appeals process looming and very little money of their own, they know Pardo's generosity might be needed. In the meantime, people working on Darlie's behalf worry that unless Pardo can come up with something solid and admissible in court, he may be hurting Darlie more than helping.

"Brian is a neophyte in this business, and I jumped his ass about going public with Darin's polygraph results," says Stephen Cooper, Darlie's court-appointed appeals lawyer. "You don't go public with information that could be harmful to a client's best interest. The D.A. has always suspected Darin was involved in some form. This could explain how the sock got down the alley. You are tainting an important witness for the defense. Say she wins a new trial and there are no new facts; Darin is the only person who can corroborate her story."

Cooper understands that Pardo is trying to put pressure on whoever he thinks are the real culprits in an attempt to "flush them out. Darlie desperately wants to find the real killer, but 99 percent of cases don't result in that."

Even if Pardo is right in believing that the state did not prove its case against Darlie, arguing that in an appeal is a tough way to get a capital-murder verdict overturned. And the No. 1 goal is to win a new trial, says Cooper.

"Most people looking at the evidence are convinced, and we are too, that it doesn't reach the level of establishing guilt by beyond a reasonable doubt," Cooper says. "But arguing that in an appeal is fairly rare. But we're looking at it."

The more conventional--and winnable--approach is to show that errors were committed during the trial. But those errors must be egregious enough to have deprived the defendant of a fair trial. For example, Cooper says, it was "outrageous" that Rowlett police officer Jimmy Lee Patterson, the lead investigator on the Routier case, took the Fifth Amendment. "But we have to show how that harmed [Darlie]."

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