By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Sitting in his office, surrounded by pictures of him meeting with presidents and garden-variety politicians, Pardo told Aitken that he was not in the business of getting guilty people off death row, or innocent people off death row, for that matter.
"I'm not even in this business," he said.
But as he listened to Aitken, who sat through all four weeks of Darlie's capital-murder trial in the conservative Hill Country town of Kerrville, he was hooked. Pardo heard many things that made him question the wisdom of the jury's verdict. But what made him want to look into the case was the fact that no one in Darlie's family believed Darlie did it.
"I was struck by the thought that if Darlie was executed, there would be no one in the victim's viewing room," he says. "It was a bizarre thought that no one would be on the other side."
The more Pardo looked into the case, the more he was convinced that Darlie didn't do it.
Pardo and McLemore began reviewing assorted documents and evidence and eventually read the three true-crime books on the murder of the Routiers' young sons, plus the lengthy trial transcript--all of which they started stockpiling in a large room inside the headquarters of Life Partners. Pardo calls it "the war room."
They quickly filled in the broad outlines of the story. Darin and Darlie Routier were a young, ostentatious couple who seemed to have it all: three beautiful sons, a large, expensively decorated, two-story house near Lake Ray Hubbard, showy jewelry, and a 30-foot cabin cruiser. But like Darlie's platinum-bleached locks and her surgically enhanced breasts, much of the Routier family's outward appearance was a façade.
In the months that led up to the murders, Darin's small electronics-testing company was struggling. For the first five months of 1996, business had fallen off considerably, and the couple was worried about finances. By June, they were two months behind in their house payments, one month behind in rent on the business. They had a $12,000 Visa bill, and American Express had been writing dunning letters. Darin would later minimize the financial trouble, saying it was caused by a temporary cash-flow problem.
Darlie was having a tough year emotionally. She gave birth in October, suffered post-partum depression, and often felt stressed from the demands of caring for a baby and two energetic young boys, who were 5 and 6 years old. In May, she even briefly considered suicide, but she called Darin instead, and he came home to comfort her. Later, she would blame it on raging hormones.
By all accounts, however, Darlie was a loving, doting mom whose house neighborhood kids flocked to.
June 5, 1996, had been an ordinary day at the Routiers'. Darlie's 18-year-old sister, Dana, came over for dinner. Darin mowed the yard, and the boys played with some friends. Darlie tended baby Drake. When Darin returned from taking Dana home, the boys were lying on the den floor, curled up in blankets and nodding off in front of the television. Darlie was on the couch, where she planned to spend the night. She had been sleeping off and on in the den for a week, because the baby, who slept in the master bedroom, frequently woke her.
The couple discussed their dwindling finances--Darlie again tried to talk Darin into getting rid of the cabin cruiser. And she was upset that Darin, whose Jaguar was still in the shop, had left her stranded at home without a car. At around 12:30 a.m., they kissed goodnight, and Darin went up to bed.
At 2:30 a.m., Darlie felt Damon pressing against her on the couch and heard him moan. She says she saw a man at the end of the couch, walking away from her. She heard the sound of broken glass as he ran through the kitchen and into the utility room.
Darlie followed him into the kitchen. She turned on the light and saw a large, white-handled knife on the floor and picked it up. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she realized she had been cut. She looked back into the den and saw Devon's chest covered in blood. Having crawled away from the couch, Damon was lying face down in the hall, gasping for air.
She screamed for Darin, then grabbed the portable telephone and punched in 911. It was bedlam as a blood-soaked Darlie shrieked into the telephone and Darin ran to the children. He felt a weak pulse on Damon, but Devon wasn't breathing. He attempted to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but to no avail. Seconds after the paramedics arrived, Damon, too, took his last breath.
At first, the Routiers' tragic story was met with fear and sympathy from the surrounding community. Their neighbors discussed the mysterious black car several of them had seen near the Routiers' house in recent weeks. But within days, the police started doubting her story.
How could she have possibly slept through the attack on herself and her children, who were just several feet from her? Why didn't she help her children when the police arrived? Her stories seemed inconsistent, and the crime scene appeared staged. And how, just eight days after burying two sons, could a mother stand at the grave site and smile at a TV camera while shooting Silly String during a celebration of what would have been her oldest child's seventh birthday?