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.

Spence's appeal also included several sworn statements from high-ranking Waco police officers who said there was nothing in the two cases that convinced them Spence was guilty.

The state and federal appeals courts found that there were errors made in Spence's capital-murder trials, but they concluded that the errors were harmless. They also conceded that at least several of the inmates who testified had been untruthful; that the confessions of Spence's alleged accomplices had inconsistencies; and that the state withheld evidence from the defense--but none of it was enough to sway them in Spence's favor.

"I think that this was such a notorious and horrible murder case," says one observer, who asked that he not be named, "that politics took over the rule of law."

By the time Brian Pardo agreed to look into Spence's case, almost all of his appeals had been exhausted. Pardo took another stab at scaring up evidence that would prove that the state's case against Spence was flawed. He hired a blood-splatter expert, who concluded that there was no way the bodies of the teenagers had been moved from one park to another after their death, as the state contended.

A state district court judge ignored this latest development, even after several prominent writers asked him to consider halting the execution until he could hold an evidentiary hearing. The writers argued that there were many troubling issues in the case, not the least of which was the fact that Muneer Deeb, the so-called mastermind behind the murder-for-hire/mistaken-identity case, had been exonerated.

In 1992, after spending six years on death row, Deeb, working as his own attorney, successfully convinced the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn his conviction. The court found that an inmate's testimony against Deeb was hearsay and thus inadmissible. The state retried Deeb. Angry that Truman Simons and Vic Feazell never delivered on the promise to get him an early parole, Gilbert Melendez refused to testify again against Deeb. In 1993, a jury in Fort Worth, where the trial had been moved, acquitted Muneer Deeb. Today, he runs a successful transportation company in Dallas.

In 1987, Feazell left the district attorney's office a year into his second term and went to work for Pardo's solar-energy company. The criminal attorney did not fit in the corporate world, Pardo says, and he asked Feazell to leave after about a year. Pardo insists his falling-out with Feazell had nothing to do with his becoming involved in the Spence case.

Feazell did not return calls for this story. Simons, now a lieutenant in the sheriff's department, refuses to comment on the Spence case, or on the libel suit he, Feazell, Butler, and Campbell filed against Pardo earlier this year.

All Simons will say is: "[Spence's case has] been up and down the appellate system several times. If something goes wrong, surely they'll find it. At the last minute the case went before the governor and the parole board, and no one effectively convinced these folks that Spence was framed. We have to rely on these folks right now."

It was Pardo who met with Gov. Bush's general counsel and the director of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole on Spence's behalf. "Both men couldn't believe the Spence case had gotten this far," says Pardo. "I think they truly wanted to help, but it wasn't politically expedient. The state is a bunch of people who don't want to be caught making a mistake."

Spence's execution deeply disappointed and troubled Brian Pardo. But with time, he has grown almost philosophical about it. "To me, David Spence was a casualty of war--the war on crime--and of assembly-line justice," he says. "A mistake was made fighting that war."

Some Waco law-enforcement officers are angry that Pardo didn't continue to try to resolve the case after Spence was put to death. But Pardo felt he did all he could do. He figures the Melendez brothers eventually will be paroled, and his responsibility was to try to save Spence's life. His final act was to fulfill Spence's wish to be buried in Waco, next to his mother, rather than on the prison grounds in Huntsville.

Pardo had no intention of getting involved in another capital-murder case, though his work on Spence's behalf didn't end with his death. Pardo devoted an entire issue of Capitol Watch to the improprieties in the state's case against Spence. A copy of the issue found its way to New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who wrote three scathing pieces on what he described as a "system gone mad." NBC's Dateline earlier this year aired a lengthy segment on the case.

Pardo's office was flooded with telephone calls the next day from people seeking his assistance. He ignored all of them, except for one from Sandi Aitken, Darin Routier's aunt. Pardo isn't sure why he agreed to see her, except that he was vaguely aware of the case.

"Aunt Sandi lived close and was willing to come," Pardo says. "And frankly, John [McLemore] scheduled an appointment without telling me."

Pardo made his latest fortune buying and reselling insurance policies of the terminally ill. Now he found himself in the role of trying to save people from death.

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