DNA testing in Darlie Routier case won't offer indisputable truth
Don't read too much into the court ruling that will allow DNA testing for
infamous death row inmate Darlie Routier. Don't hold your breath for
finally, at long last a definitive answer.
The dead-certain specificity with which improved genetic testing
techniques can identify DNA has been a lifesaving miracle to some prison
inmates. Some of them spent years unjustly incarcerated, until science
offered them a chance to prove the innocence they have claimed all along.
DNA can prove beyond even a calculable doubt whether a defendant is or is
not, say, the rapist who attacked a particular victim. It can prove
whether a pinprick-size dot of blood found on a suspect's shirtsleeve came
from a dead guy in a Dumpster on the other side of town.
But nobody, save Mrs. Routier's unyieldingly partisan family, believes DNA
will provide the certainty so many people seem to crave in her case. Even
her own attorney seems to be tempering expectations that test results
would win Ms. Routier the right to a new trial:
"It's not a long shot, but it's certainly not more likely than not," he
said. Which I took to mean: Don't place any bets on it.
Mrs. Routier, tried and convicted of stabbing her own little boy to death
(she was not tried in the death of a 2nd son, killed in the same 1996
attack), has an odd power to polarize public opinion.
For one, she never floated the only explanation many people can accept for
why an ostensibly devoted mother would butcher her own children: insanity.
Darlie Routier never claimed to be crazy, never said, like Andrea Yates or
Dena Schlosser, that God or Satan or Venutians on the Shopping Network
were feeding her instructions.
The only motive prosecutors had was unadulterated, megalomaniac greed. She
staged the killings, they argued, because she figured shrinking the
family's size by 2 members would stretch their dwindling income.
Could a cheery Rowlett housewife who made cupcakes for the neighborhood
kids really be such a monster?
That's a tough sell. But so is the defense theory, which is that a
mysterious rogue killer, for no reason anybody can fathom, silently broke
into the house, slaughtered the kids and vanished.
Over the years, the evidence at the bloody scene has been parsed, debated,
re-examined. In the end, you still have what we started with: a largely
circumstantial case, which ultimately comes down to which version of
events you believe.
The jury believed the prosecutors' contention (as do I), which rested
largely on the argument that Mrs. Routier's intruder tale was just too
far-fetched, and that the evidence available pointed to a staged effort to
invent a nonexistent mystery killer.
But plenty of people out there and not, by any means, just gullible fans
and conspiracy cranks genuinely believe Mrs. Routier is the victim of a
double tragedy almost beyond human endurance: the gory murders of her
little boys and a wrongful death sentence for killing them.
If and it's a big if DNA testing finds that minute hairs and bloodstains
found at the crime scene don't belong to anybody in the household, that's
still not definite proof of Mrs. Routier's innocence.
But it would raise fresh questions, lend weight to the doubt the defense
tried to raise in the case. If more than one of those little scraps came
from the same stranger, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said, it might
be enough to tip a jury the other way.
If, as prosecutors confidently predict, those samples came from somebody
in the Routier household, then their case is that much more solid, and
Mrs. Routier maintains her position in the execution line.
But it won't offer indisputable truth, not in the absolute, unquestionable
terms people seem to want in this sad case.
Nobody knows what happened with that degree of certainty. Except Darlie
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Pace of Texas executions revives fairness disputes—-Rejected appeals in
2 cases raise charges of rush to judgment by state appeals court
In September, the execution of Michael Richard in Texas was steeped in
controversy. The state's highest criminal court shut its doors at 5 p.m.
and Richard's attorneys were unable to file last-minute appeals, even
though the U.S. Supreme Court had halted executions earlier that day to
consider whether lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment.
That was Texas' last lethal injection before the de facto moratorium on
When Texas resumed executions last week, there was controversy again, with
lawyers for Karl Chamberlain saying the convicted murderer was executed
even though they were still taking appeals to the nation's highest court.
That the 8-month break in lethal injections in Texas was bookended by
controversy comes as no surprise to observers of the nation's busiest
death chamber. The state's Court of Criminal Appeals often has been
criticized for how it handles death penalty cases; indeed, it was met with
fresh criticism this week as it rebuffed claims from convicted killer
Charles Hood, who faced execution Tuesday.
On Monday, the court ruled that Hood, who claimed the judge and prosecutor
at his trial were having a romantic affairraising questions of a conflict
of interestcould not make that claim for procedural reasons.
Then on Tuesday the court ordered a judge to reinstate Hood's death
warrant after another judge had withdrawn it and recused himself from the
proceedings, part of a long evening of legal wrangling that ended when
prison officials decided they could not execute Hood before a midnight
"Texas uniquely places a high value on volume and speed. When you care
about that more than anything else, you're going to make a lot of
mistakes," said David Dow, a professor at the University of Houston Law
Center who represents Death Row inmates. "And the [Court of Criminal
Appeals] … behaves as if their job is to facilitate executions."
Others say the court merely follows the law and holds lawyers accountable
to tight deadlines and procedural rules while providing finality for the
families of victims. They suggest, too, that controversy is a natural
byproduct of a system that conducts more executions than any other state.
"There's always controversy with the death penalty," said Kent
Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a
group that supports the use of the death penalty. "Because Texas has the
largest number of executions, the opposition particularly has it in for
The most recent string of controversies began with the Sept. 25, 2007,
execution of Richard, who was convicted of the 1986 shooting of Marguerite
Dixon, a nurse and mother of seven. Richard's attorneys told the court
they would be filing a last-minute appeal but were delayed when their
computers went down. Court of Criminal Appeals presiding Judge Sharon
Keller closed the court anyway.
In the Chamberlain case, the court was late in getting its denial to the
defense lawyers. Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law school professor
and attorney with the Texas Defender Service who was working on
Chamberlain's case, said that the delay of more than 30 minutes according
to a timeline provided by the court meant the lawyers could not file the
Supreme Court appeal.
Levin said the lawyers told the state attorney general's office they were
filing another appeal, and the practice has been that executions are not
carried out until all appeals are exhausted. In this case, she said, the
attorney general's office did not wait.
"The only interpretation of the events," Levin said, "is that they were so
keen to see him executed that they were willing to play games to make that
happen. None of it is about the merits of the case."
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said in a statement that
Chamberlain's lawyers never told the office or the Supreme Court that a
filing was imminent. But an e-mail to the clerk of the Supreme Court shows
Levin had told the court another filing was coming. That e-mail also
refers to a conversation with the attorney general's office.
Claims of an affair
In the case of Hood, who was convicted of the 1989 murders of Ronald
Williamson and his girlfriend, Tracie Wallace, the court said that the
claims of an affair were an abuse of the court system because they could
have been raised earlier.
Hood's lawyers said that while they suspected a romantic relationship
between the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the prosecutor, Tom O'Connell,
it was just recently that they believed they had evidence to make a
good-faith claim the sworn affidavit from a former prosecutor who said
the relationship was "common knowledge" among lawyers.
John Rolater, chief of appeals in the Collin County district attorney's
office, said the office would seek another execution date for Hood.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Man Found Guilty of Murdering Former Teacher
A man could now face the death penalty for killing a retired school
Jonathan Depue showed no emotion on Thursday as he was convicted of
killing Aleta Rhodes. Depue was found guilty of capital murder.
Rhodes, the former Edison High School teacher, was murdered during a
robbery back in 2006.
Depue's sentencing will begin Friday morning.
(source: WOAI News)
Verdict Reached in High Profile Capital Murder Trial
A verdict has been reached in a high profile capital murder trial out of
25-year-old Stephan Dean Hogankamp is accused of killing, then torching
71-year old Kenneth Smith in his Copperas Cove home back in October of
2006, after he said Smith made unwanted sexual advances.
It took the jury less than 2 hours to reach a guilty verdict that was not
so pleasing to the prosecution.
That's because the jury found Hogankamp guilty on a lesser charge of
murder included in the indictment.
The prosecution, who alleged Hogankamp robbed Smith during the commission
of the murder, was hoping for a guilty verdict on the capital enhancement,
which would've meant the death penalty or an automatic life term in
When the verdict was read at about noon Thursday one of the only member's
of Hogankamp's family, allowed to sit in the courtroom during the trial,
came running outside the building to relay the decision.
His family members shed tears and hugged each other after they learned of
the verdict. His mother, Katrina Moore, told News Channel 25, she felt
Jurors were still deliberating on a sentence as of late afternoon
Thursday. Hogankamp faces two to 99 years in prison.
(source: KXXV News)