The mother of Darlie Lynn Routier, the former Altoona- area woman on death row in Texas for killing two of her children in 1996, believes more than ever that someday her daughter will be cleared and will come home.
"It may be awhile, but I know she will be coming home," said Darlie Kee, who also lives in Texas but who was visiting relatives in the area in recent weeks.
Kee said late last week the 44-year-old Routier, who is being housed at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas, is fighting to have additional DNA tests performed on the circumstantial evidence used to convict her on Feb. 1, 1997.
Darlie Lynn Routier holds her son, Drake, while posing for a photo with her other two sons, Damon (left) and Devon.
Some testing was ordered in 2008 and has been moving ahead slowly, according to court records.
But in December, Routier's attorneys asked that a state court grant permission for additional testing that could produce evidence, they said, proving Routier's innocence in the stabbing deaths of her sons: Damon, 5, and Devon, 6.
The two boys were killed on June 6, 1996, while sleeping with their mother in the downstairs family room of the family's Rowlett, Texas, home.
Police charged Routier with using a knife to kill the children and then to stab herself to convey her story that she and the children had been attacked by an intruder.
While the two boys died of their wounds, Routier was badly injured and required surgery. Her defense team pointed out that one stab wound to her neck was extremely close to her carotid artery, which would have resulted in death within minutes, a point made to indicate that her wounds were not superficial as possibly would have been the case if she staged the attack.
Routier told police that she and the children fell asleep while watching television and that she was awakened when her son, Damon, bumped into her right shoulder and said, "Mommy."
She said she saw a man walk from the family room into the kitchen. She got up and followed him, she said. He then went into a utility room. She saw a knife there. She then realized she was covered in blood.
Routier reported she noticed Damon was covered in blood, and she screamed for her husband, Darin, who was sleeping upstairs with their newborn, Drake.
Both, she said, tried to aid the children while they waited for help to arrive via a 911 call.
Damon's last woods to her were "OK, Mommy" as she told him to hold on.
Police didn't buy into the intruder story and charged her with murder.
Routier has been on death row for nearly 17 years, Kee said.
The defense has contended her trial was "tainted" by prosecution attempts to assassinate Routier's character. The judge allowed testimony from witnesses who said she was "self-centered," "materialistic" and a woman "cold" enough to murder her children, that she had a temper and that what made her mad most was the family's money problems.
One of Routier's attorneys, Richard Smith, in 2006 filed a petition asking the U.S. District Court in West Texas to review the case and order that she may be "discharged from her unconstitutional confinement and restraint, and/or relieved of her unconstitutional sentence of death."
But the defense asked that the federal case be put on hold so that the DNA testing could be carried out at the state level.
The U.S. Court approved the stay on June 29, 2009, but in November, the chief U.S. District Court Judge, Fred Biery, in San Antonio, stated in an order he wanted a status report on the DNA testing because the case had been stayed so long.
He said the court was "inclined" to lift the stay and move to the issues in the case.
Assistant Attorney General for Texas Tomee M. Heining submitted a report in December indicating DNA testing had been done on Routier's nightshirt, and 24 of the 26 cuttings revealed her blood but excluded any blood from the children, a finding that was favorable to Routier.
A bloody sock was found outside the home. That controversial piece of evidence contained blood primarily from the child, Devon. The defense believes more testing of that sock is warranted because if Routier's blood was found, it would tend to prove Routier was cut before the sock was transported outside the home.
That finding, the defense contends, would counter prosecution arguments that Routier took the sock outside the home as part of her effort to stage an attack by an intruder and then went back to the home to cut herself as part of the ploy.
The defense, court records show, believes the sock was dropped by the intruder - the killer - as he fled.
The prosecution and defense are working together on further DNA testing - now mandated by Texas law - and therefore asked the federal court to continue the stay.
There are many issues involved in the case. The defense wants additional DNA testing of the sock, hairs found on the sock, more testing of the stains on Routier's nightshirt, untested blood stains on the murder weapon, blood stains on pillows in the room where the murders were committed and testing of a bloody fingerprint on a coffee table.
That print has never been identified and the defense believes DNA testing could show if it came from an unidentified individual.
The petition before the federal court is 75 pages long, and it questions whether Routier received a fair trial.
Initially, she had court-appointed attorneys who obtained statements from crime scene experts disagreeing with police interpretations of the evidence - that Routier staged the crime scene to make it look like an intruder committed the crime.
But they were replaced by a private attorney who, the defense now contends, did not challenge the crime scene interpretation by police and who had a conflict of interest in that he represented Routier's now-former husband, Darin, in a proceeding connected with the case and was bound not to point the finger at the husband during her trial.
Kee said last week it has been a rough year for the family.
She said Routier "struggles sometimes" but added, "She has innocence on her side."
The youngest son, who was with the father upstairs in the Routier home the night of the murders, is now 18 years old, Kee said, and he is fighting leukemia.
One of Kee's Altoona area relatives, first cousin Anna Frank, said she believes in Routier's innocence. She said it's "just like a nightmare, going to jail for something you didn't do."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.