The Cult of Darlie

If they start throwing chairs, you'll know you're on the wrong set." With such sage advice, my 11-year-old daughter bid me adieu before I jetted off to Los Angeles on less than a day's notice to appear on the Leeza Gibbons show, the outer ring of TV talk-show hell.

On the relatively civilized, if somewhat banal, Leeza show, the topic was Darlie Routier, the blonde Rowlett mother whose two young sons were stabbed to death on the den floor where they slept by her side three years ago this June. After a five-week trial in Kerrville, a jury convicted Darlie of murdering 5-year-old Damon and sentenced her to death.

In the pantheon of gruesome, captivating Texas crime stories, of which there is no shortage, the Routier murder case certainly holds its own: A young, flashy mother claims she slept through--or just doesn't remember--an intruder's vicious attack on herself and her boys. Then, a week later, she allows a TV news crew to film her

gleefully shooting Silly String during a graveside party on what would have been her oldest son's seventh birthday. She hires one of the best-known criminal-defense attorneys in the state, who loses the case even though there is no eyewitness, confession, or clear-cut motive.

Still, it seems odd that a national television show would want to revisit a 3-year-old murder case, even one as intriguing as this. Of course, one of the peculiar features of the Routier case is how its hold on the public has seemed to grow stronger with time.

Last year the case was back in the news when wealthy Waco insurance baron Brian Pardo took up Darlie's cause. Convinced that her wounds could not have been self-inflicted and that crime-scene investigators had done sloppy work, he graciously offered to fund a new investigation of the case and subsidize her appeal.

In an attempt to rule out Darlie's ever-loyal husband, Darin, as a murder suspect, Pardo insisted he submit to a polygraph. Darin, who seems to mention the size of his wife's enormous breast implants at every opportunity, failed the exam, and Pardo leaked the results to the media. In the process, Pardo managed to alienate Darlie's family and at least one of her appeals attorneys.

Recently, the case took another unusual twist when Darlie's appeals attorneys proved that the trial transcript was hopelessly flawed. The court reporter, meanwhile, lied under oath when she claimed audiotapes of the trial did not exist. When the tapes miraculously appeared, another court reporter used them to reconstruct the trial transcript. Soon it will be up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide whether this new transcript can be legally certified or whether Darlie's conviction should be thrown out on a technicality.

Even with these legal loop-de-loops, there isn't a whole lot of new ground for the media to mine. And if there was, the Leeza show seems a rather odd forum in which to do so. But as it turns out, the latest chapter in the Routier case is as improbable and bizarre as all the rest.

The raison d'etre for the Leeza segment on Darlie--actually two hourlong segments, which aired May 4 and May 5--is a self-published book written by a Lewisville businessman who claims to have uncovered new evidence that proves Darlie is innocent. A self-published book normally isn't the kind of product that commands a lot of attention or respect, much less two hours of network television. And this is just the beginning of the media juggernaut; Extra, Inside Edition, and Dateline have also shown interest in the book.

Media Tried, Justice Denied was written by Christopher Wayne Brown, publisher of the Lewisville entertainment magazine Around our Town, which consists mainly of articles about those clubs and businesses that advertise most heavily in its pages. Researched and written in two months last summer and published in February, Brown's book revisits all the state's evidence and makes a case for another possible suspect. One erstwhile Darlie foe found the book so convincing, it changed her mind.

After sitting through the entire five-week trial, Fort Worth true-crime writer Barbara Davis spent two years researching and writing Precious Angels, a paperback released in December, which emphatically argues that Darlie is indeed guilty. After spending hours examining the evidence Brown unearthed, however, Davis recently did an about-face. She now believes so strongly that Darlie did not murder her children, she has asked Darlie and her family for their forgiveness. And she now visits Darlie regularly in prison.

So what is this shattering new evidence uncovered by Christopher Brown that made Davis turn her back on her own 322-page book? Unfortunately, Leeza Gibbons, who will never be confused with Mike Wallace, didn't get around to obtaining much of an answer to that question. True to form, the Leeza show, a hybrid of information, entertainment, and the all-important audience participation, shed far more heat than light.