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.

Melendez changed his story again, this time claiming Spence stayed with the bodies while he and his brother drove to get his truck to move the bodies. That wasn't possible either. A mechanic would later testify that the truck was miles away at his shop, inoperable with a broken ignition and three flat tires.

When Simons took Melendez to Koehne and Speegleville parks, he was so clueless that Simons had to show him where the three victims had left the orange Pinto and where the bodies were dumped. Schonemann doubts Melendez was purposely playing dumb, because at the time the authorities were dangling the prospect of immunity in front of him. "He had every incentive to tell the truth, had he known it," the lawyer says.

Gilbert Melendez eventually recanted his confession and refused to testify against Spence. But the state used Melendez's version of the killings taking place at one park and ferrying the bodies to the other one throughout all the trials, though it is highly implausible that it happened that way. The police never found a drop of blood or other physical evidence of a murder in Koehne Park. And the 10 people who had been at the park that night and came forward to police never reported hearing screaming, which Melendez said the victims did plenty of.

The state nonetheless tried Spence for capital murder in the death of Jill Montgomery. To physically tie Spence to the murders, the state would show that Spence had inflicted bite marks on the girl's body. The Dallas forensic pathologist who autopsied the bodies apparently overlooked these bite marks, for there is no mention of them in her report. No, the bite marks wouldn't be discovered for some time, until assistant district attorney Ned Butler spotted them on the crime-scene photos while preparing for trial.

Butler turned to Homer Campbell, a New Mexico forensic odontologist and hunting buddy of Butler's. Campbell had the photos of Montgomery's body enlarged. Then he made a mold of Spence's teeth and found that they matched the bite marks almost perfectly.

Schonemann eventually would point out that Campbell had previously misidentified--on the basis of teeth comparison--the remains of a dead woman as those of a missing runaway who subsequently turned up alive.

In addition to Homer Campbell, prosecutors called upon a rogue's gallery of jailhouse snitches, who told the jury eerily similar stories about how Spence had confessed to them about committing the Lake Waco murders. Each witness denied that the state gave them favored treatment in return for his testimony.

The jury convicted Spence and sentenced him to death.
Shortly thereafter, Muneer Deeb was re-arrested and charged with capital murder. By now, the state had an important ace in the hole. With Spence sentenced to death, Gilbert Melendez decided he should start cooperating again with Simons and testify against Deeb, or he could face the same fate as Spence. Tony Melendez also confessed for the same reason, although an investigator for his defense attorney had evidence that Tony was working 100 miles away as a painter in College Station at the time of the murders. The Melendez brothers each received life sentences, but Gilbert claimed that, in return for his testimony, Feazell and Simons had promised to help him make parole the first or second time he was eligible. That meant he might serve as little as seven to 10 years.

In Deeb's trial, the state again relied on inmate testimony. Deeb was convicted and condemned to die.

In a subsequent trial, Spence was convicted of killing Kenneth Franks. At this trial, the prosecution no longer needed the help of inmate stool pigeons. They used Melendez's confession instead, as well as the expert testimony of Homer Campbell.

Two years after David Spence was condemned to die, his mother, Juanita White, received a letter from David Snelson, an inmate who had testified against her son. He told her that he had lied under oath and begged her forgiveness. White excitedly gave a copy of the letter to Spence's defense attorney. He contacted the police. Two days after a memorandum about Snelson's letter circulated the department, White was found sexually assaulted and beaten to death in her home. The next day, her house was broken into again. Nothing was taken, but her personal papers had been ransacked.

No proof exists linking White's death to the investigation and conviction of her son, though Pardo claims his "street sources" say there was a direct correlation. The investigation into her death, however, did bear an uncanny similarity to the one that put her son on death row.

White's murder case was assigned to Waco police officer Jan Price, who developed a suspect--a man who committed a similar murder in Juanita White's neighborhood two months later. But before Price could pursue the case further, she was told that Truman Simons had conducted his own investigation. The district attorney's office was going to try two men he had fingered for the crime--Joe Sydney Williams and Calvin Washington, petty thieves who were almost a decade apart in age and barely knew each other.

Again, Simons used jailhouse snitches to make his case. An inmate testified that he walked past a hotel room in the middle of the night and overheard Williams and Washington implicating themselves in the crime. At least 15 Waco police officers testified for the defense at the trials. They claimed that the most important prosecution witnesses should not be believed.

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