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RELATIONSHIPS Why Darin Believes Darlie

Even though a jury convicted her of murdering their son, he is standing by the woman he loves.

ON A BLISTERING HOT DAY IN JUNE, A stunned Darin Routier sat in the back of a Rowlett police car, listening on a cellular phone as his mother-in-law told him an astonishing thing: His wife, Darlie, had just been arrested for murdering two of their children, “No!” Darin sputtered to Mama Darlie. shaking his head. “I’m right here with the police. Nothing like that has happened.” He didn’t believe it. “Yes!” Mama responded, her quaking voice almost an electronic scream. “I’m watching it on TV!”

Eight months later. Darin stood on the lawn of the Kerr County Courthouse, a heartbroken Texas Romeo corralled by TV cameras, silently mouthing, “1*11 see you in heaven,” as he looked to where Darlie, his tiny and imprisoned Juliet, wanly waved, not from a balcony but from the window of a second-floor holding cell. A jury had found her guilty of murdering one son and sentenced her to death.

He still didn’t believe it, and he never will.

During a lunch break while the trial was in progress, as prosecutors stapled together a circumstantial case before a friendly jury, Darin pushed a taco around his plate at Acapulco restaurant, absently running it through a brown floe of frijoles. He wasn’t much interested in food or anything else and had lost so much weight that his red, white and blue leather jacket hung loose about his shoulders. A sheen of tears came to his eyes. “All Darlie and I are guilty of is waking up.” he said, choking out the words before turning away to look out at a wintry parking lot as gloomy as his mood.

For, you see, Darin loves Darlie.

In fact, the whole family does. The mother, the in-laws, the sisters, the aunts, the cousins, all of those people whose names start with D, the whole bunch of them. From the moment Darlie was arrested for allegedly killing two of the couple’s three sons to the minute the jury sentenced her to die for killing 5-year-old Devon, the kin performed a precarious balancing act little understood by others, shelving their private grief for the two little boys in order to place a ring of support around Darlie, as if their unconditional love of this mysterious little blonde might transmute into her freedom and end the nightmare. They never wavered and today stand stronger than ever in their collective belief that she is innocent.

IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO SEPARATE THE murder story from the love story that dates back to Mother’s Day in May 1985, when 15-year-old high-schooler Darlie Lynn Peck sashayed through the front door of a Western Sizzler restaurant in Lubbock. Her mother, Darlie Kee, had set up a meeting between her pretty daughter, who had recently moved out from her father’s home in Pennsylvania, and the handsome assistant manager of the steakhouse. Darin Routier, Kee’s boss, although only 17, was hardworking and very mature for his age.

Darin had always been quiet and strong, the responsible one of his peers. He was the first kid in his class to have his own checkbook, the first to go to work to earn money for a car when he realized he needed wheels before he could get a girl. On his high school football team, he played both offense and defense, linebacker and fullback, and lettered in three sports. But his strength was tempered with gentleness.

Darlie Kee had thought the two young people might like each other but had not anticipated the thermonuclear explosion that followed. “He lit up and just stared and stared,” she recalls. “The sparks were flybig.” There was a lot to stare at, for young Darlie was a perfect package of curves, beauty and charm.

“We 11-developed for her age,” people would say, no matter what her age. Other teenage girls looked at that blond hair, those large breasts bouncing beneath a T-shirt and the great butt filling tight Daisy Duke cutoff jeans and sighed, “When’s that going to happen to me?” Darlie’s mother-in-law, Sarilda Routier, once observed that Darlie “has such a cute body that she oughta just walk around naked all the time.” Her appearance in the Western Sizzler was enough to wilt the lettuce on the salad bar.

Darin and Darlie had their first date that same night, and his older girlfriend, a pretty Texas Tech student, became instant history as the two kids became inseparable. “He was a handsome guy and had a lot of gorgeous girlfriends,” his brother, Deon, remembers. “But he was in awe of Darlie. He’d always say, ’As pretty as she is, how can she like me?’ ” Deon’s wife, Dana, agreed: “They were just silly in love.”

And they stayed that way. Darin and Darlie were married in August 1988, a little more than three years after they met, waiting only because they were so young. The ceremony was in the sunroom of Sarilda and Leonard Routier’s home in Lubbock, and only four outsiders were invited. Best man was a long-haired friend who played the drums in a rock band, and maid of honor was Barbara Jovell (who would later turn against Darlie during the trial in an undisguised blend of contempt and envy).

Darlie and Darin’s marriage blended two families from different backgrounds. She was the fourth woman in her family to carry the name Darlie. Her mother-a tall, attractive, buxom blonde-was heading for a third marriage of her own. Her father, who played 13 instruments, was a military construction worker in Vietnam when his daughter was born and was so proud that he bulldozed her name into a mountainside.

Darin’s parents-the quiet and steady Lenny and the petite, dark firecracker Sarilda-had only one serious argument anyone could remember, and Deon Routier would describe growing up in the best terms. “You might say that we had a Brady Bunch family, but by comparison, the Bradys looked dysfunctional,” he says.

Everyone agreed that Darin and Darlie might as well go ahead and get married. They were living together, although neither family particularly liked that arrangement, but there was no way they would be separated. Darin, an entrepreneur since 13, was doing well since moving from the restaurant business into electronics. In short, there was no reason they should wait.

So Darlie began shopping for a wedding dress to match the moment, doing her favorite thing, shopping for the best on a tight budget, following her philosophy of NPR, Never Pay Retail. She tracked a beautiful gown she first saw priced at S 1,695 in a designer bridal registry until she plucked it from a four-hours-only sale rack for a little more than $200.

Five years after the wedding, Darlie and Darin borrowed % 122,300 and moved into the beautiful brick-fronted home that dominates the sweeping curve of Rowlett’s Eagle Drive. They could afford it; years of hard work had paid off. Darin had jumped into the hot world of electronics and created a small company called Testnec to test circuit boards, and the money rolled in. When the home telephone rang back then, Darlie answered with a chirpy “Test-Nique Electronics.”1 The couple had come a long way from the old Roach Motel days, working late into the night crimping wire into tiny units that could be resold at a profit.

Besides a used ’86 Jaguar, Darin collected expensive sports memorabilia and Darlie was decked out mighty fine with fur coats, designer dresses, cashmere sweaters and naughty swimwear. Devon and Damon and the baby Drake wore expensive clothes and grew up in a house that was an eclectic mix of Tara and Graceland. The family room contained a huge karoake setup, where Darlie would croon “I Will Always Love You” in a voice remarkably like that of Whitney Houston. There were so many expensive toys, the neighborhood kids called the place “The Nintendo House.”

Darlie and Darin’s lives were flash, and both believed in buying and wearing top-quality goods and always going the NPR way, like when Darlie got that $800 fur jacket in a going-out-of-business sale in Pennsylvania for just $ 160. Darin, only 28, was a proven earner who planned to make a lot of money as a businessman. He got a loan for a cabin cruiser with the idea to start a romantic tour business on Lake Ray Hubbard. Darlie had him making cages so she could start raising and selling Persian cats. They had five cats themselves and one little dog, a Pomeranian named Domino. The debt grew, but all the bills got paid. Flash* was risky on a non-monetary point, however, because it brought sniping from jealous acquaintances. Weren’t they awfully young to have so much material stuff?

N THAT FATEFUL NIGHT, DARIN POPPED awake to a terrified scream from Darlie. The sound of breaking glass. What the hell…? Red numbers on the bedside clock showed 2:30. Drake lay in his bassinet at the foot of the bed. Domino lay sound asleep on a deep pillow. Darin jumped into a pair of jeans, grabbed his glasses and thundered down the long spiral staircase, fearing that one of the boys had crashed through a glass table top. When he spun around the bottom step, heading to his right, toward the family room, he found a scene beyond his worst nightmare.

As Darlie screamed, “Devon, Devon, Devon!” the stunned Darin saw his oldest son on the floor, with huge gashes in his chest, in a spreading pool of blood. Damon was obviously terribly injured also, lying so still. Darlie had a telephone in one hand, talking almost incoherently into it as she ran back and forth with towels, bleeding profusely from a neck wound of her own, to which she held a rag. Darin tried CPR on Devon; the boy’s blood gushed out every time Darin pressed his chest.

Time passed in a blur of images for Darin as the police arrived, the paramedics came with their bulky boxes, and he ran across the street to get help from a neighbor who is a nurse. While at her house, he washed the blood from his hands and his face, chest and back, even from his mouth. Then one neighbor drove him to Baylor Hospital, where Damon and Devon and Darlie had been taken; another took care of Drake.

Darin learned that both of his boys were dead and his wife was being operated on for a slashed throat and other injuries. As he sat in the waiting room, police checked him out, took his clothes, gave him hospital garb to wear, photographed him and got the keys to his house.

He didn’t care, he said, he just wanted to see Darlie. When he finally reached her in the ICU recovery area, she was still groggy but hysterical, heavily bandaged and wanting to see Drake. The baby was brought in for a little while, then, when Darlie was shown pictures of Damon and Devon, ’’she just fell apart,” Darin said.

Slowly, Darlie told Darin what had happened: They had been asleep, a stranger had come in, killed the boys and assaulted her. She fought him off and he ran out through the kitchen and garage, dropping a knife on the way. Darin hung on her every word.

He said that in the following days, both of them cooperated totally with police investigators, who promised they were checking out hundreds of leads. In reality, police had already made up their minds that there had been no intruder in the house and were focusing their efforts on building a case against Darlie.

Devon and Damon were buried in a single coffin so they could go to heaven together, he said. Darin, who had refused to let the boys play with knives, slipped little pocketknives into the coffin as a final present. Many other mementos also went into the casket, from stuffed animals to silver coins, and Coolio’s rap tune, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which the boys had loved “to dance and jump around to,” was played during the funeral service.

For what would have been Devon’s 7th birthday, on June 14, just eight days after his death, the shaken family decided to do something special. A graveside prayer service was arranged.

Since the morning of the murders, the media had jumped on the story like crows on corn, and everybody in America had seen the smiling photographs of Devon and Damon, and of their sorrowful parents. America was about to see something else.

On the day of the prayer service, Rowlett Police Det. James Patterson had a long-lens camera set up across the way on the roof of the cemetery offices. Beneath the blanket of balloons, toys and cards, police had bugged the grave marker with a microphone, hoping that somebody would come close and confess.

Neither The Dallas Morning News nor Joe Munoz of KXAS-Channel 5 did anything with the prayer service, but both got graveside interviews afterward, and the case would never be the same.

Darlie’s 14-year-old sister, also named Dana, had decided on her own to try to cheer things up and remembered how much Devon enjoyed party poppers and aerosol cans of squirting Silly String.

Darlie arrived at the cemetery after still another police interview and told family members she was happy because an arrest was imminent. She granted interviews and hugged family members, and then the camera caught her laughing and spraying Silly String over the grave of her children. In fact, everyone there seemed to be having a good time, throwing a party for Devon, up in heaven.

The Munoz interview became the hallmark of the case. From then on, nobody could think of Darlie without thinking of that bizarre scene. Silly String indeed.

Police, satisfied with the reverse ripple effect of the investigation, in which everything moved toward the center, arrested Darlie Routier on Tuesday. June 18, and she spent her first night naked in a jail cell with only a mattress on the floor, under suicide watch.

THE ENTIRE FAMILY WAS IN A STATE OF shock as a media blitzkrieg descended, private photographs became public, and neighbors, friends, enemies and people who didn’t even know Darlie and Darin were interviewed and their words published and broadcast across America.

Police tried hard to convince Darin that Darlie had committed the crime, and he was astonished at the claim. Whenever they would point to a piece of evidence, he responded there was a simple explanation. Some of it was downright silly, he thought, and they were basing a murder case on it?

What about Darlie’s notes about a tombstone? he was asked. Those were for a pet cemetery burial for Darlie’s recently deceased 18-year-old cat, Sam.

And the scribbles about who would get the boys if something happened to Darin and Darlie? Darin said they always kept their wills updated, particularly before going on a trip. The notes had been at the office, but he decided to keep them at home instead. They were planning to buy a filing cabinet within the week.

And this $5,000 personal loan that a bank had recently turned down? It wasn’t for us at all, Darin told police, but for Dana, Darlie’s kid sister, who wanted to buy a pickup but was too young to gel financing.

The breast operation for Darlie? Over time and multiple births, her large breasts had sagged almost to her waist, and the muscles to hold them up were simply gone. The medical choice was an operation to fold them up, forfeiting sensitivity, or to have them augmented. Darin saw absolutely no problem with his wife having even larger breasts and didn’t mind that she got her belly button pierced and a tiny flower tattooed on her thigh.

The sex toys found in the house? Neither of them would apologize to anyone for having a good sex life.

The two wedding dresses found on a bed? Wasn’t Darlie fantasizing? No, Dana was planning to get married soon, and Darlie and Darin were going to renew their vows at the same time. Devon and Damon were to be ringbearers.

Darin went down the list, item by item. It all made sense, he told the police, don’t you see? Every piece of evidence has an answer. That night. Darin threw dishes against the wall in frustration and soon went to a firing range to take out his anger on paper targets.

In his few moments with Darlie, Darin never wavered in his love and even talked about how they would start a new family when they were together again. But first, there would be a trial, and as 1997 arrived, Darlie was moved to Kerrville, where, after being strip-searched, she was handed a pail of water and told to scrub the jail floor.

DARIN HAD BECOME A DIFFERENT MAN. At the instruction of defense attorney Doug Mulder, he shaved off his beard, leaving only a trim mustache, and had gotten rid of the nugget-size rings, replacing them with a single gold wedding band. Any sign of glitz was banished, but he got a new tattoo, of the slain boys. He tapped his chest. “They aren’t buried out there” in that cemetery outside Rowlett, he said. “They’re in here.”

He looked like a man adrift-not an individual, but half a couple. He got through the days with supportive hugs from the many women in his family. Two kids dead, wife on trial for killing them, business almost at a standstill, friends turning against him, broke.

It was hard not to feel sorry for Darin Routier. What everyone wanted to know was how he could stand up in the face of everything that had happened and still believe his wife was innocent?

“It’s simple,” he said. *’I know Darlie better than anyone. I believe her.”

Darin was called to the witness stand on Jan. 27, almost weeping every time he glanced over at Darlie. She cried as he testified. Mulder led him carefully through the presentation. Darin managed to bat down some misconceptions and predicted that he would have made about $200,000 in 1996 had everything remained normal. Business was good; the bills were paid.

Asked if he felt betrayed by police, Darin answered, “Yes, sir. I told them everything. I didn’t have anything to hide. I gave them the keys to everything I had.”

During cross-examination, Darin dismissed the report that Darlie once had entertained thoughts of suicide, saying it had been only a passing bout of the blues that he had helped kiss away.

By the time the case got to closing arguments, the jury simply didn’t seem to be listening any longer, Four voted on the first ballot to acquit Darlie, but they were quickly won over. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilt and a unanimous sentence of death, contending that Darlie, by existing, posed a continuing threat to society.

She was moved out to the state prison in Mountain View, to become only the seventh woman on Texas’ Death Row, her attorneys already launching an aggressive appeals process. Darin and the rest of the family continue to believe the real killer is still out there somewhere.

Police and prosecutors are just as convinced the real killer is locked up and under the death sentence.

When it was all over in Kerrville, Darin reflected on the trial, the prosecution and the verdicts, and summed up his underlying belief.

“They’re wrong,” he said. “They’re just wrong.”

And that is where it stands.

For, you see, Darin loves Darlie.