Monday, July 20, 2015

Author Interview: DATELINE: PURGATORY by Kathy Cruz

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Title: Dateline: Purgatory
Author: Kathy Cruz
Publisher: TCU Press
ISBN: 978-0-87565-610-6
Price: $22.96












Non-Fiction, True Crime



In the wake of more than 1,500 exonerations across the country (150 of which were for inmates on death row) and growing demands for reforms within the justice system, award-winning journalist Kathy Cruz uses a new lens to examine the controversial Darlie Routier case - and what may be a true Texas mystery.


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In Dateline: Purgatory, Cruz enlists current day legal experts to weigh in on the shocking transgressions that resulted in one of the country's most troubling death penalty convictions. With the help of the infamous death row inmate and a former FBI Special Agent known as "Crimefighter," the veteran journalist would find that her journey through Purgatory was as much about herself as it was about the woman dubbed "Dallas' Susan Smith."



Darin_and_Darlie.jpgUnder a starry sky on the snowy slopes of Purgatory, Colo., Darlie Lynn Peck linked her destiny with that of an ambitious young man from Lubbock, Texas named Darin Routier. Ten years later, a horrific crime known as "6-6-6" would thrust the couple into the national spotlight.



Devon_and_Damon.jpgThe brutal murders of young Devon and Damon Routier in the early morning hours of June 6, 1996, would put their mother - Darlie Routier - at the heart of one of the most notorious murder cases in modern Texas history - despite her own throat having been slashed to within 2 millimeters of her carotid artery.
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The actions of a small town police department and Dallas County's justice system created a perfect storm that swept up the young mother and landed her on death row. There she has remained, in a 9-feet-by-6-feet cell, despite claims of her innocence by those who know her, findings about the alarming fallibility of bloodstain analysis - and her husband's admission that at the time of the murders he was soliciting help to stage a home burglary to commit insurance fraud.



What people are saying about Dateline: Purgatory


“Everybody knows the Texas criminal justice system doesn’t work, but few know why and how. Kathy Cruz does, and Dateline: Purgatory proves it. This richly detailed and well-narrated book affords a view of the Texas system rarely seen by the outside world. It shows how ambitious prosecutors, compliant judges, and na├»ve jurors can make for a lethal combination. It also shows the terrible human cost involved when justice becomes what it is in Texas: a team sport in a rigged game. Anyone who wants to understand the true nature of Texas injustice should read this book. Ms. Cruz has done the world a favor by writing it.” – Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief counsel, Innocence Project of Texas


“I thought I knew all that there was to know about Darlie Routier – the woman at the center of the most talked about murder case in modern Texas history. Then I started reading Dateline: Purgatory. Kathy Cruz's book is not only a masterful piece of investigative reporting, it's a beautifully written narrative, filled with characters that seem to come straight out of fiction. Almost twenty years after Darlie's two sons were murdered, the twists and turns in this saga still remain utterly riveting. I promise you that after reading Dateline: Purgatory, you will not be able to stop wondering what really happened to Darlie and her family.” -- Skip Hollandsworth, executive editor, Texas Monthly


“With relentless research that rivals her provocative writing, veteran journalist Kathy Cruz makes a powerful argument for reopening the case of the Texas homemaker at the heart of one of the nation's most unsettling death penalty convictions. The reasons why we all should be suspicious of how this conviction was won, along with details of how Cruz's destiny crossed with that of Darlie Routier, make for a riveting read.” -- Mike Cochran, author, Texas vs. Davis: The Only Complete Account of the Bizarre Thomas Cullen Davis Murder Case


Dateline: Purgatory will make you feel. Then, it will make you think. And hopefully, after that, you will want to act. I did, because once an execution is carried out, there's no correcting it.”-- Michael Morton, author, Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace





Q. Obviously your journalism background drew you to this story, as well as your working in the area at the time when this crime occurred. What is it about this story that made you want to dig deeper and write this book?

A. The story is absolutely fascinating and would make a great plot for a made-for-TV movie – except, as yet, there is no ending. Darlie has not been exonerated, she has not been executed, and she has not received a new trial. I wanted to dig deeper because of the concerns of my former husband, Howard Swindle, who died in 2004. At the time of the Routier crime, I had left my reporting job at the Dallas Morning News to raise our two young sons. Howard was projects editor at the DMN, which meant that he was in charge of all investigative projects. I recall him telling me that he was very concerned that the jury may have convicted Darlie on little more than character judgments. There were other things that worried him as well, such as the quality of the police investigation and other, more plausible possibilities about what happened that night.


Q. How long did you research this case before starting to write about it?

A. Not long, really. The book stemmed from a series of articles I wrote for the Texas Center for Community Journalism (TCCJ). The articles were made available to any community newspaper in Texas that wanted to publish them. A lot of people are fascinated with this high profile case, and there are a number of issues with the Routier case that tie in to the many changes taking place within our justice system. If Darlie is innocent, then what happened to her could happen to anyone who has the misfortune to be connected to a crime. The partnership with the TCCJ had never been done before. Writing one article at a time was fairly easy to do, even though I was working a fulltime job at the Hood County News. HCN Publisher Jerry Tidwell fully supported my efforts. It was Tommy Thomason, director of the TCCJ, who first realized that the work I was doing was good material for a new book about the case. There are four other books about the case (not counting one or two self-published, quickly thrown together works), but they were published shortly after Darlie’s conviction. Three of the authors were at the trial. Much has come to light since then, both in terms of this case and in terms of flaws in our justice system that have led to many wrongful convictions. More than 150 exonerations have been from death row.


Q. What was the one thing that really stood out about this case that made you think Darlie Routier was more than likely sentenced for a crime she did not commit?

A. The thing that really stood out for me was the absurdity of what the state claimed. The state’s timeline is extremely problematic, and there were contradictory things claimed by Dallas prosecutors that made little sense. For instance, they claimed that Darlie was obsessed with her looks, yet we are to believe that she defaced herself by slicing her own throat – without the aid of a mirror – in the staging of the crime scene. The scar on her throat is still visible today. The reality is, the knife missed her carotid artery by just two millimeters. The necklace she was wearing, which was found to contain two nicks, very likely saved her life. And then there were the blatantly sexist character judgments and the infamous Silly String tape. For most people, the footage of Darlie spraying Silly String on the shared grave of her sons is what first comes to mind when they recall this case. It is interesting that to this day, Darlie’s friends and family continue to adamantly defend her. And, unlike other mothers who have killed their children, she has never confessed, but rather continues to maintain her innocence.


Q. Do you think the Texas Justice System as improved since the time of this trial?

A. Yes, but not enough. Changes to our justice system have been far too slow and there has been strong resistance in the Legislature. Things are changing, but not quickly enough. I am glad to see that the tide seems to be turning as it pertains to holding prosecutors accountable for unethical tactics and wrongful convictions. The Darlie Routier case is very similar in some ways to the Michael Morton case. Michael Morton’s exoneration a few years ago received a good deal of media attention. Thanks to the Innocence Project, that case was the first time a prosecutor (who went on to become a state district judge) was arrested and stripped of his law license for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence.


Q. Do you think Mrs. Routier will ever be given a new trial?

A. Honestly, I don’t know. One of her appellate attorneys, Stephen Cooper of Dallas, has told me he believes that she will. But the question is, when? It is a travesty that Darlie Routier has been on death row for more than 18 years and has not been granted a new trial despite a court transcript that contained an unprecedented 33,000 errors. Forty to 50 percent of the errors were “substantial,” such as “yes” instead of “no,” “up” instead of “down,” etc. The court reporter also sent to the deliberating jury the wrong answer to a key question. The epically flawed transcript from the Darlie Routier case, which caused the court reporter to lose her license, literally changed the court reporting industry, yet the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accepted it.


Q. When you write about crime, is it hard not to get drawn down into the dark nature of the subject? How do you keep yourself from letting the subject get to you?

A. It’s hard to answer that question, because getting drawn into “the dark nature of the subject” hasn’t really been an issue for me. But what has been an issue for me is the feeling that there very well may be an innocent woman on death row. For some reason, once I had a random thought about Darlie Routier on a Sunday afternoon in April 2012, I could not shake her after that. When I began researching the case, it disturbed my sleep – not because of the violence of the crime, but because of all the injustices. Looking back on it, I am amazed at the work I put in during evenings and on weekends. I remember that on New Year’s Eve 2013, I couldn’t wait for the HCN office to close early so that I could remain in my cubicle and work on “Dateline: Purgatory.” I didn’t go home that night until shortly before midnight. That may sound rather pathetic, but it was how I truly wanted to spend my New Year’s Eve.


Q. The world of investigation has come a long way in the last 15 years. Do you think if this crime took place now, instead of back then, the outcome of the investigation would have been different?

A. I’m not so sure, at least in terms of the police investigation. I do believe that police and investigators tend to get tunnel vision, and tunnel vision is a very dangerous thing. If investigators form a theory early on (which, in Darlie’s case, happened within minutes of crime scene investigator James Cron’s arrival on the scene), then it is very easy from that point forward to look only for things that fit that theory. Law enforcement also tends to focus on statistics. Statistically, most murdered children may be murdered by their own parents or caregivers, but that’s not always the case.


Q. How long did it take you, beginning of research to final product, to complete this book?

A. Between two and 2 1/2 years. Interestingly, a thought about Darlie popped into my head on an April afternoon in 2012 and, in April two years later, I submitted a rough draft of a manuscript to TCU Press. I told the staff that I would continue working on the manuscript while the rough draft went through the peer review process. I ended up adding three more chapters. In April three years after that random thought, I held a paperback copy of “Dateline: Purgatory” in my hand. Oddly enough, the reason Darlie agreed to meet with me, even though she had not done a media interview in more than four years, was because my JPay email to her had mentioned the month of April. The reason why that month is significant to her is detailed in the book.


Q. What is the most important thing you have to do as an author of nonfiction?

A. The most important thing as an author of nonfiction is to get it right, and that’s not always easy to do. I knew going into this project that there would be challenges. Memories are now almost 20 years old, and there were disagreements among the players on certain things. I just did the best I could, and I think everyone who spoke with me did the same.


Q. What other projects are you working on?

A. I am hoping to find another justice-related, non-fiction idea, but, in the meantime, I am trying my hand at fiction writing. The plot involves an innocent man who is framed for the murders of his wife and son and is sent to death row. I am consulting on that project with Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, who I am making an actual character in the book. I intend to include in the book the role that Blackburn and IPTX have played in changing the Texas justice system.



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Cruz_headshot.jpgKathy Cruz is a former reporter for The Dallas Morning News, now working as a staff writer at the Hood County News in Granbury, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth. She has won numerous Journalist of the Year honors from Texas press associations, as well as many other awards from regional, state and national press associations. She is the co-author of You Might Want to Carry a Gun: Community Newspapers Expose Big Problems in Small Towns. Cruz is the recipient of five awards for excellence in legal reporting, including a Texas Gavel Award and four Stephen Philbin Awards from the Dallas Bar Association – two of which were grand prizes.



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Books may be purchased by calling 1-800-826-8911, visiting www.prs.tcu.edu, or visiting your local bookstore.


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1 comment:

  1. This book should be classified as fiction. Just ridiculous. Darlie Routier is so guilty even a blind man could see it.

    ReplyDelete