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.

Pardo knows better than most, from his experience with David Spence, that even with the most compelling new evidence and examples of significant trial error, it is often next to impossible to get a case overturned.

But thanks to Pardo, Cooper may get some top-notch help with the appeal. Pardo recently paid $8,000 for Steve Loesch, one of the best appellate attorneys in the state, to review the trial transcript and make some preliminary recommendations on how to proceed with the appeal. Pardo also may bring Loesch on board to handle part of the appeal--if the cost isn't too prohibitive.

Pardo and Cooper agree on one thing: "From looking at the pictures you can tell that Darlie was definitely a victim," says Cooper. "Crazy people can slaughter their children and cut the shit out of themselves. But with crazy people, there is usually a downward spiral and after a crime, they don't become normal again. This woman is not crazy.

"It is absolutely clear to me that she is absolutely not guilty of this crime. Guilty people know they are guilty and there are limits on their ability to think logically. They frequently mislead their lawyer. But she has good suggestions about what leads to follow, not just rabbit trails. From the media reports and the pictures of her, the impression I had was that she was shallow and not very smart. But I'm really impressed with Darlie."

A small brick bunker bordered by flowers and razor wire houses Texas' women's death row. It is one of a dozen or so drab buildings that make up the Texas prison system's maximum-security Mountain View Unit in rural Gatesville.

The seven women incarcerated here spend their days in a large room off their cellblock, gathered in a sewing circle of sorts making dolls and other assorted crafts. The room has a television, an old exercise bike, and shelves full of books.

After being strip-searched, Darlie, escorted by a female guard, arrives unshackled in the visiting room, where she is separated from her visitors by a window. She is pale and plainer now, her frothy blonde hair all but grown out, the multiple earrings she used to wear replaced by simple gold crosses. But she is still pretty, and her large doe eyes are heavily made up.

When she talks about her children, she starts to cry. The prison spokesman, who accompanies reporters to every interview, will later say it's the first time she's seen Darlie cry in a while. But it's impossible to divine some deeper meaning from the show of emotion. Like so much of Darlie's story, it is ultimately unknowable.

"Sometimes it's like it's not real, like this is not really happening to me," Darlie says. "But it's not about guilt or innocence. It's about my babies are gone, and they're not coming back to me. They were my whole world. There aren't words that can describe that kind of pain, that kind of loss."

She thinks about her dead sons every day, she says, especially in the evenings, when she is by herself in her cell. "But I am not going to cry on cue for somebody. I deal with my emotions. But no matter what you do, people are judging you by their standards."

She is still angry that people reacted so horribly to the graveside birthday party. She is certain that the jury, who was shown videotape of the party six times, convicted her because of it. Neither the party nor the Silly String was her idea, but that doesn't matter. "I refuse to apologize for it. And I would do it again. People made something so ugly out of something done out of pure love." The party, she explains, was a celebration of her son's life. Devon's birthday party had been planned weeks before his death, and canceling it would be the final acknowledgment that he was gone. It was a way to hold on a little longer.

"The next day we were supposed to fly to Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandparents' 50th anniversary. Every time my dad and I talk, he mentions all the stuff he had planned to do with Devon and Damon. He was going to take them camping..." she says, too emotional to finish the sentence.

"Yes, there were stresses in my life, normal stresses. But there was so much going on. We had all these plans. It was a happy time."

Darlie apologizes that she can't talk much about developments in her case. "I finally have people really putting their heart into this, finding answers. I want to share it, but I can't."

The conversation naturally shifts to Brian Pardo, a touchy subject. "Brian is a nice man who sincerely wants to help. He wants to look at everything. I can't agree with everything he does. But in the end, the more we get into this, I think he'll be OK."

The subject of Darin's polygraph is off limits. "It doesn't prove anything. There's reason why a polygraph is not used in a court of law." She still refuses to believe Darin had anything to do with her attack and the murder of their children

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