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Virus slows Routier case

Former Altoona woman facing death penalty in Texas, awaiting day in court

Darlie Routier, the former Altoona resident who is facing a death sentence in Texas for the 1996 murder of one of her young children, was to have a post-conviction hearing in Dallas County last week, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas has recently been hard hit by positive COVID-19 cases and several weeks ago Texas Gov. Greg Abbott imposed restrictions on businesses and other services due to the upsurge of cases.

Like many other states, courtrooms in Texas have canceled many hearings.

One of Routier’s attorneys, Richard A. Smith of Dallas, emphasizing the impact of the pandemic, said he hasn’t been in a courtroom since January.

Smith and a representative of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Lorie Davis, recently issued a status report on Routier’s long-standing post conviction appeal that awaits a hearing in Dallas County.

Routier’s attorneys also have filed a federal habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court of West Texas, but it has been on hold for more than a decade.

Post conviction activity in the Routier case has been delayed due to ongoing DNA testing of the evidence that was collected in June 1996, after the bodies of Routier’s two young children, Damon, 5, and Devon, 6, were found in a downstairs television room of the Routier home in Rowlett, Texas.

A third child, who was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom with Routier’s husband, Darin, was not injured.

Routier, now 50, contended she and the children were awakened by an intruder during the early morning hours of June 6. The knife-wielding attacker, Routier claimed, stabbed her and the children.

She suffered many serious knife wounds, including one on her neck that was 2 millimeters — about 5 sixty-fourths of an inch — from her carotid artery, during the attack, but, almost immediately police concluded it was an “inside job,” and within days, arrested the young mother.

Routier, while charged with the killings of both children, was tried in early 1997 only in the killing of 5-year-old Damon because it was a crime that carried with it the possible death penalty.

Routier has been in prison for the past 24 years.

However, progress has been made in the past year toward post-trial relief for Routier, according to the defense attorneys.

DNA testing of the evidence has been completed, and a bloody fingerprint found on a coffee table in the home was finally run through state and federal data bases, but it remains unidentified.

Also within the past year, a Dallas County judge ordered the prosecution to permit inspection of its files on the case by Routier’s team of defense attorneys.

The status report, prepared by Smith, indicated a hearing in Dallas County on the Routier case had been tentatively scheduled for this week, but “the COVID-19 pandemic has led to its postponement.”

Due to the pandemic, Smith stated, it is unlikely the hearing will be rescheduled “for the immediate future.”

It also was reported that two dozen boxes of the prosecution files on the case have been reviewed by the defense team, which includes representatives of the Innocence Project of New York.

Because of the new evidence gleamed from the DNA testing and the prosecution files, an amended habeas corpus petition will be filed in the state court, the status report indicated.

Meanwhile, the defense team has asked that a federal public defender be appointed to aid with the Routier case if it ever makes it to the federal level.

Dallas attorney J. Stephen Cooper requested the naming of a new federal defense attorney because one of Routier’s counsel, Lauren E. Schmidt, accepted another job.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery recently named Jeremy Schepers of the federal public defender’s Capital Habeas Corpus Unit for the Northern District of Texas as Schmidt’s replacement.

While there has been a lot of activity in the past year concerning the Routier case, nothing has occurred concerning defense efforts to move the post conviction proceedings through the court system, Cooper said.

He said there has been “just a tiding-up” of the evidence.

Routier was born in Altoona and traveled to Texas with her mother, Darlie Kee, as a teenager.

Kee periodically returns to Altoona to visit her father — Darlie’s grandfather — who is in his 90s.

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