Fallen Angel

True-crime author Barbara Davis fought hard to redeem Darlie Routier's reputation. Now she's caught in her own bizarre web of death, drugs, and family hatreds.

With Christmas just 10 days away, the petite blonde sat at her computer screen, engaged in her night-owl habit of checking e-mails and responding to chat-room questions posed by a growing collection of fans she'd never expected to have. True-crime author Barbara Davis, at 49 a latecomer to her profession, was still a stranger to the New York Times best-seller list. It had, in fact, taken a public admission that she had become convinced that Darlie Routier, a convicted murderer whom she had vilified in print, was actually not guilty, to turn her into a minor book-world celebrity.

Her epiphany had vaulted Davis from the role of chronicler to active participant in the controversial and ongoing saga of Routier, the Rowlett mother accused of killing her two children and convicted of the murder of 5-year-old Damon. And with her almost evangelical pleadings on TV talk shows, in newspaper articles, and in the new world of cyberspace, Davis had earned a public awareness that went well beyond the mid-list sales of the original paperback, Precious Angels, that she'd written on the case. The high praises suddenly coming her way via the www.fordarlieroutier.org Web site, then, were not applauding her writing so much as her conversion and new-found conviction.

Such was the tenor of most of the e-mails she read and replied to that night, as December 14th passed into the wee hours of the 15th. Earlier she had responded to a question about her career with the explanation that time spent away from writing while spreading the word of Routier's innocence had created a financial hardship that had made taking a part- time job at a local hospital necessary.

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And then, shortly after 1:30 a.m., she read a message that caused her to bolt upright in her chair. "If you're so hard up for money," the unsigned e-mail questioned, "why don't you sell some of that marijuana you're growing in your house?"

A new true-crime story -- involving dark suggestions of conspiracy and retribution, family feuding on a grand scale, lawsuits, and accusations of overzealous actions on the part of a suburban police department and one of its officers -- was about to unfold.

It was shortly after 10:30, later that morning, December 15 of last year, when Davis' 25-year-old son, Troy, clad only in drawstring pajama bottoms, peeked into his mother's bedroom and announced that he was preparing breakfast. Barbara, who had remained at her computer until well after 3 a.m., said she wanted to sleep a while longer.

Minutes later, all hell broke loose. A booming sound signaled that leaders of a 17-member police task force were shattering the front door of the one-story tan brick home in the 8200 block of Ulster Drive of North Richland Hills. The officers were armed with a "no-knock" warrant to search for "a substantial amount of marijuana," which an unnamed informant had assured them they would find.

Across the street, John and Rose Sanderson, longtime residents of the neighborhood, had seen the police's unmarked van pull up two doors down from the Davis house and watched the scene unfold through the window of their garage. After several officers disappeared into the alcove leading to the Davis front door, John Sanderson heard the loud sound of the door being broken down, then "about two, maybe three seconds later," two rapid gun shots.

What neither he nor his wife could see was the tragic scene playing out inside the Davis home. On the living-room floor, his head just a few feet from wrapped gifts beneath a gaily decorated Christmas tree, Troy Davis lay stretched on an Oriental rug. He was bleeding badly from gunshot wounds to the chest and upper thigh.

Although he would be administered CPR by the same officer who fired the two .45 caliber shots, Davis was pronounced dead upon his arrival at Columbia North Hills Hospital. An autopsy revealed cannabis, trace amounts of alcohol, and the prescription drug Darvon in his system.

In the somber days that followed, what happened during those flash-bang seconds after the officers stormed into the Davis home would quickly develop into a bizarre controversy that has lost no steam in the four months since the event. In fact, the incident, which eventually led to Davis' being charged on three felony drug counts, has brough about a series of allegations from all corners of the controversy: allegations by police of a drug-dealing family that tried to shoot first; by the Davis family, which blames Barbara for killing her ex-husband -- after she shot him; by Darlie-is-innocent supporters who say Barbara was set up because she now believes Darlie didn't do it; by a lawyer who accuses the cops of a cold-blooded killing; and by observers who say that no matter what went on behind Barbara Davis' closed door, the police should never have knocked it down and killed her son.

The police version was straightforward and dry, as police versions usually are. At a news conference three weeks after the raid, law enforcement officials described the possibility of great danger to the tactical team, a situation they say made the use of the increasingly controversial "no-knock" warrant essential. The confidential informant, police chief Tom Shockley noted, had told investigators that a paranoid and reclusive Troy Davis routinely met people at the door with a gun loaded with Teflon-coated bullets (known on the street as "cop killers" since they are capable of penetrating body armor).

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