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 permanently shelved his political aspirations, but not his desire to keep a watchful eye on the government.

Shortly after his Congressional campaign, the semi-retired Pardo began publishing a newsletter, Capitol Watch, that kept the people on his campaign mailing list apprised of assorted government and public-policy issues. A few months after he began publishing, Pardo was invited to take a tour of the state prison by former professional football player Bill Glass, who ran a prison ministry based in Dallas and was looking for corporate sponsors. Pardo was not interested in backing the ministry, but he thought the prison visit might make good copy for the newsletter.

Morbid curiosity brought Pardo back for a return tour, this time of death row. Asked which inmate he wanted to meet, the only name Pardo knew was David Wayne Spence. He was Waco's most notorious killer, who, along with two accomplices, was convicted of savagely torturing and raping two teenage girls then repeatedly stabbing them and a male friend. Their bodies were found bound and gagged in the woods along Lake Waco, in a spot that Pardo could see from his hilltop house.

A prison spokesman who accompanied Pardo on his visit told him Spence was the one inmate who really frightened him. "Look into his eyes," he said. "He's inhuman."

Pardo was immediately struck by how benign Spence appeared; he was a balding, overweight man who looked utterly harmless.

"I want to talk about my case," Spence said.
Remembering the advice of Bill Glass, who cautioned Pardo not to talk to inmates about their cases because it upsets them, Pardo demurred.

"I'm here to talk about life on death row," Pardo countered.
Spence persisted, and Pardo gave in. Spence told Pardo that he was innocent, which struck Pardo as almost funny.

"David, how many people on death row are innocent?"
"Not very many," Spence replied. "But there are a few, and I'm one of them."
Spence regaled Pardo for almost two hours with a tale of how an unscrupulous lawman and overzealous prosecutors conspired to frame him. Spence left Pardo with these parting words: "Don't believe me; check it out for yourself. If you're interested in justice, rather than politics, at least look into it."

"We picked up Nietzsche's load," Pardo says, "and decided to check it out."
With the help of his company's communications director, John McLemore, a former television investigative reporter, Pardo decided to re-examine the case. They had their work cut out for them and little time to spare. Texas planned to execute Spence in five months.

Pardo began his examination by talking with Spence's first defense attorney, a prominent Waco lawyer who publicly maintained all these years that Spence was innocent. The lawyer's efforts to defend Spence had been severely hamstrung by the prosecution, which refused to hand over evidence beneficial to his client.

The extent of the prosecutorial misconduct would not be discovered until almost a decade after Spence's conviction. That's when Raoul Schonemann, an idealistic young appeals lawyer, inherited the case. A staff attorney with the Texas Resource Center, a federally funded law office--now defunct--that handled appeals for death-row inmates, Schonemann and his colleagues spent six years doggedly defending Spence. In the process they unearthed troubling facts indicating that the case that put Spence on death row was seriously flawed.

Pardo's first visit in Schonemann's cluttered Austin office lasted eight hours, as the lawyer walked Pardo through the complex scenario of the Lake Waco murders and the way a law-enforcement officer and the prosecution went about bringing three suspects to justice.

On July 14, 1982, Waco police found the bloody bodies of Kenneth Franks, 18; Jill Montgomery, 17; and Raylene Rice, 17, at Speegleville Park at Lake Waco. The three were last seen the night before at nearby Koehne Park, a popular hangout on the lake, where Rice's orange Pinto was found abandoned.

The girls were nude, with their hands tied behind their backs. They had been sexually assaulted and stabbed repeatedly, and their throats were slashed. Franks, who was Montgomery's boyfriend, had also been stabbed repeatedly. He was found fully clothed and wearing sunglasses.

One of the most gruesome and shocking murders in Central Texas, it would inspire an award-winning book, Careless Whispers, by Dallas journalist Carlton Stowers, who lionized the lawman who brought Spence to justice, and a made-for-TV movie. The murders bedeviled the Waco police for months. Hundreds of leads poured into police headquarters, and the investigation spawned more than 400 pages of reports. But after 10 weeks, the police still didn't have enough to make an arrest.

Bragging he could solve the murders in a week, cocky narcotics officer Truman Simons asked Waco Police Chief Larry Scott to assign him to the case. Although Scott would later admit in a deposition that he had misgivings about Simons' tendency to form a theory about a case and ignore any evidence that would disprove it, the chief let him have a crack at it.

Simons quickly zeroed in on a Jordanian convenience-store owner named Muneer Deeb, who had reportedly told a witness he was glad Kenneth Franks was dead. Franks had mercilessly taunted the foreigner every time he came by his store to see his friend Gayle Kelley. Kelley worked for Deeb, and the store owner admittedly had a crush on her.

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