2 Decades After Being Convicted of Killing Her Son, Darlie Routier Insists She's Innocent

Darlie Routier is the subject of '20/20' documentary airing Friday.
Darlie Routier, left, after her 1996 arrest and in prison today.Handout/ABC News

The Texas mother's strange saga is the subject of a "20/20" documentary airing Friday.

The confounding case of Darlie Routier, one of only six women on death row in Texas, has fascinated Americans for more than two decades.

The suburban housewife was convicted of the 1996 stabbing death of one of her two young sons — an attack she blamed on an an intruder who broke into the family's home in the wee hours and brutally stabbed Damon, 5, and Devon, 6, to death before attacking Routier herself. (Routier was only tried in one of the deaths.)

The three had fallen asleep watching TV in the family room, she said. Her husband, Darian, and their baby son, Drake, were asleep upstairs. In the 23 years since a jury found her guilty of murder, Routier has steadfastly denied the killings, saying she is not guilty and would never harm her children.

Her fight for freedom is chronicled in a two-hour documentary airing on ABC's "20/20" Friday evening.

"I cannot actually believe they're doing this to me when I didn't do this," Routier says in jailhouse interview conducted at Gatesville prison. "I didn't kill Devon and Damon."

Prosecutors and police have said one of the most damning pieces of evidence against Routier was video taken of a graveside party held for Devon one week after his death, on what would have been his 7th birthday. 

A segment showing family members singing "Happy Birthday" and Routier smiling, gnawing on gum and spraying Silly String on the boys' graves galvanized public opinion against the mother, her attorneys said. During their deliberations, jurors asked several times to view the video.

Routier's family, who believe she had nothing to do with the killings, said footage of the event that also showed her sobbing and being comforted at the graves was not made public. 

Four days after that gathering, Routier was arrested and charged with capital murder for Damon's death. She was not tried for Devon's killing. Prosecutors said they wanted a second chance to try her in case the first trial ended in acquittal.

On June 6, 1996, at 2:31 a.m., Routier called 911. In audio of the call, Routier is heard screaming. "Somebody came in here. They just stabbed me and my children!"

The dispatcher replies, "What?"

Routier's husband at the time told police he heard his wife crying and shouting, and ran down the stairs to find their sons on the floor, with blood everywhere. To this day, he says he doesn't believe she killed their sons. They divorced in 2011.

She told officers she had awakened to see a man running toward her kitchen. She followed him, but he escaped through the garage, she said. She didn't realize her sons were mortally wounded until she returned to the family room, she said. Catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror, she saw her throat had been cut, she said.

Though the wound was superficial, doctors said, it barely missed her carotid artery. Photos taken at the hospital showed severe bruising on Routier's arms, which she said she'd held in front of her face to ward off the attacker.

Later, a juror would come forward to say he regretted voting to convict Routier and said the panel had never been shown photos of Routier's bruised arms.

Investigators began to doubt her account after finding no blood in the garage or footprints between the garage and the backyard gate, which was undisturbed. Prosecutors told jurors Routier killed her children because the couple faced severe financial problems and the mother feared her privileged lifestyle was about to end.

Investigators said Routier staged the crime scene and that her injuries were self-inflicted.

Her lawyers claimed multiple mistakes were made at the crime scene and in the investigation. DNA testing not available at the time was recently conducted and the results are discussed in the special.

Routier, now 49, was 26 when her children were killed. Her execution has not been scheduled.