Longform

Defending Darlie

Page 16 of 17

A small brick bunker bordered by flowers and razor wire houses Texas' women's death row. It is one of a dozen or so drab buildings that make up the Texas prison system's maximum-security Mountain View Unit in rural Gatesville.

The seven women incarcerated here spend their days in a large room off their cellblock, gathered in a sewing circle of sorts making dolls and other assorted crafts. The room has a television, an old exercise bike, and shelves full of books.

After being strip-searched, Darlie, escorted by a female guard, arrives unshackled in the visiting room, where she is separated from her visitors by a window. She is pale and plainer now, her frothy blonde hair all but grown out, the multiple earrings she used to wear replaced by simple gold crosses. But she is still pretty, and her large doe eyes are heavily made up.

When she talks about her children, she starts to cry. The prison spokesman, who accompanies reporters to every interview, will later say it's the first time she's seen Darlie cry in a while. But it's impossible to divine some deeper meaning from the show of emotion. Like so much of Darlie's story, it is ultimately unknowable.

"Sometimes it's like it's not real, like this is not really happening to me," Darlie says. "But it's not about guilt or innocence. It's about my babies are gone, and they're not coming back to me. They were my whole world. There aren't words that can describe that kind of pain, that kind of loss."

She thinks about her dead sons every day, she says, especially in the evenings, when she is by herself in her cell. "But I am not going to cry on cue for somebody. I deal with my emotions. But no matter what you do, people are judging you by their standards."

She is still angry that people reacted so horribly to the graveside birthday party. She is certain that the jury, who was shown videotape of the party six times, convicted her because of it. Neither the party nor the Silly String was her idea, but that doesn't matter. "I refuse to apologize for it. And I would do it again. People made something so ugly out of something done out of pure love." The party, she explains, was a celebration of her son's life. Devon's birthday party had been planned weeks before his death, and canceling it would be the final acknowledgment that he was gone. It was a way to hold on a little longer.

"The next day we were supposed to fly to Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandparents' 50th anniversary. Every time my dad and I talk, he mentions all the stuff he had planned to do with Devon and Damon. He was going to take them camping..." she says, too emotional to finish the sentence.

"Yes, there were stresses in my life, normal stresses. But there was so much going on. We had all these plans. It was a happy time."

Darlie apologizes that she can't talk much about developments in her case. "I finally have people really putting their heart into this, finding answers. I want to share it, but I can't."

The conversation naturally shifts to Brian Pardo, a touchy subject. "Brian is a nice man who sincerely wants to help. He wants to look at everything. I can't agree with everything he does. But in the end, the more we get into this, I think he'll be OK."

The subject of Darin's polygraph is off limits. "It doesn't prove anything. There's reason why a polygraph is not used in a court of law." She still refuses to believe Darin had anything to do with her attack and the murder of their children

The conversation keeps veering back to elements of the case that frustrate her, how the circumstantial evidence was twisted against her. Like a boxer who loses the most important fight of his life on a technical knockout, she can't give it up. She mentally replays the fight repeatedly seeing how obvious it is--to her--that there should have been a different outcome.

Ultimately, an interview with Darlie Routier is maddeningly frustrating. She is still hopelessly vague on the details of the attack. She has undergone several sessions of regression therapy to try to restore her memory of the event. "The therapy helped me understand a few things more that happened. With the hypnosis I know definitely there was more than one person there that night."

Though she only saw one person leave that night, from what the experts have told her, there had to be two people, because there were probably two knives used. So, did the therapy help her actually remember two assailants, or is it simply wishful thinking? Only God, Darlie, and two little boys know the answer.

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Ann Zimmerman