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.

When the Rowlett police arrested Darlie less than two weeks after the murder, the media compared her to Susan Smith, the North Carolina mother who tearfully pleaded on national television for the safe return of her two children, who she claimed had been kidnapped in her car by a man. Two weeks later, Smith confessed that she killed them by rolling her car, with the children strapped to their car seats, into a lake, after her boyfriend broke up with her because he didn't want kids.

But Darlie didn't confess, and the police could never find a motive. Darlie Routier was sentenced to die, while Susan Smith is eligible for parole in 30 years. And as Brian Pardo quickly learned, in Darlie's case, there were many more questions than answers.

Darlie's wounds first caught Pardo's attention. In news reports leading up to the trial and throughout the legal proceeding, prosecutors kept referring to the stab wounds as superficial. The implication was clear: Darlie cut herself.

But when Pardo read the medical reports and looked at pictures of Darlie taken four days after the murders, he was shocked.

A slash 10 inches long and three-quarters of an inch deep angled downward, from right to left along Darlie's neck, stopping less than half an inch from her carotid artery. Had it been severed, it would have meant instant death. She suffered a one-and-a-half-inch puncture wound on her upper left chest, cuts on the palm side of her last two fingers on her left hand, and a small cut on her face. Her mouth was also raw and throbbing. Perhaps the most perplexing wound of all was a deep cut on the outside of her right forearm that penetrated the bone. Darlie was right-handed, and it was inconceivable to Pardo that she would have the force and dexterity with her left hand to cause such a powerful injury.

And how to explain the dark purple bruises that circled both wrists and covered the inside of her right arm? None of the Baylor Hospital medical personnel who testified claimed to have seen any bruises on Darlie during her day-and-a-half stay. Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Greg Davis suggested at the trial that Darlie had bruised her own arms with a baseball bat after leaving the hospital, because police were beginning to doubt her story and she had to make her injuries look more severe. But Pardo has a snapshot of Darlie in the hospital that clearly shows the bruises beginning to form near her wrist, the only part of her arm that is visible.

Sandi Aitken recalls seeing the bruises on Darlie's arms when her niece arrived at the funeral home to view the boys' bodies just hours after she had been released from the hospital. "That girl looked like she had been in a battle," Aitken says.

At her trial, defense witness Dr. Vincent DiMaio, the chief medical examiner of Bexar County and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Forensic Pathology, testified that Darlie's injuries were hardly superficial--"She showed significant blood loss"--and were not consistent with being self-inflicted. To him, the forearm puncture appeared to be a defensive wound, caused by an attempt to block a knife assault. Asked if he thought she could have caused such severe bruising to herself, the doctor just laughed.

The Rowlett police were the first to seize on the notion that Darlie had cut herself, after interviewing the Baylor doctor who had just spent an hour and a half stitching her up. He told the officers that her wounds were superficial, but he later clarified that term to mean only that they had not hit any vital organs and the patient would survive. The police then called in Janice Townsend-Parchman, the Dallas County assistant medical examiner. After a 10-minute examination of the bandaged, heavily sedated Darlie, Townsend-Parchman told an officer that the stab wounds could have been self-inflicted. In court, Dr. Townsend-Parchman would admit that Darlie's cuts were deeper than most hesitation wounds made by people who want to hurt, but not kill, themselves.

With no confession, seemingly no motive, and no eyewitnesses, the case against Darlie was purely circumstantial, a battle of differing expert opinions. But Pardo insists that one piece of hard evidence--a timeline of events surrounding the assaults--proves Darlie did not have time to stage a crime scene, as the prosecution claimed.

According to the prosecution's own witness, given the nature of Damon's five stab wounds to the back, the boy lived at the most for eight or nine minutes after the attack. Darlie's anguished call to 911 lasted five and a half minutes. The police spent about two minutes checking the house to make sure the alleged intruder was not still there. Then the paramedics arrived and, within 30 seconds, paramedic Jack Colbye rolled Damon over and watched him let out his final breath.

If Darlie were the killer, Pardo argues, that would leave her only a minute to take one of her husband's socks from a rag pile in the utility room, smear it with two nickel-sized drops of Damon's and Devon's blood, then run through the back yard, open a gate, run 75 yards down the alley in her bare feet, and deposit the sock next to a curbside garbage can, where it was later found by police. Then she would have to run back, repeatedly stab herself--none of her blood had been found trailing to or from the alley--at the sink, where the prosecution theorized she had cut herself, run to the couch and bleed on a pillow, return to the kitchen and bleed heavily on the floor, and knock a wine glass from a rack onto the floor, before screaming for Darin and calling 911.

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