We are the same age with shoulder-length dark hair, pale skin and a nervous feeling in the pit of our stomachs.
We are also both mothers of three sons — another similarity but one that highlights a cavernous divide between us.
Darlie Routier and I may only be separated by a pane of bullet-proof glass but we are worlds apart.
While I am quietly missing my boys, having travelled all the way to Mountain View women’s prison, Texas, for this interview, Darlie is on Death Row for killing her offspring.
Susanna Reid interviews Darlie Routier at the Mountain View Unit, Gatesville Texas the state’s death row for women.In this new documentary for ITV’s Crime & Punishment strand
Sentenced to death for the murder of Damon, five, she was also charged with six-year-old Devon’s murder on the same night.
She was never tried in the second instance as prosecutors wanted the option to pursue a second indictment if they couldn’t get a conviction in the first trial.
The very thought of double infanticide is bone-shakingly horrifying for most people. But as a mother I feel particularly nauseous about sitting inches away from a woman who did such a thing.
A woman who so brutally bludgeoned the lives she had brought into the world.
Darlie isn’t the first murderer I’ve faced, but interacting with a mother who has done the most unnatural thing in the world is one of the most emotionally challenging situations I’ve ever been in for work. And the case is far from clear cut.
Now 50, Darlie has always protested her innocence — and there are many who support her assertions that an intruder killed her sons.
They range from her ex-husband and surviving son, now 25, to the friends who say she has been wrongly painted as a sadistic killer and the experienced appeals lawyer who says no one will ever convince him of her guilt.
But a jury was convinced and convicted her in 1997, making Darlie one of America’s most notorious female prisoners.
She has been here awaiting execution by lethal injection ever since.
Texas mother Darlie Router, pictured above with her three sons, has spent more than 20 years on death row for murdering 5-year-old Damon (left), and also stabbing to death 6-year-old Devon (right), though she was never tried for the latter
I am interviewing her for an ITV documentary about the case and my aim is to maintain objectivity in the face of a maelstrom of emotions.
But there are times when Darlie breaks down in front of me, crying about the sight of her slain sons, and I feel the tears stinging my own eyes…times when I have to remind myself that my instinctive maternal empathy does not mean she’s an innocent woman.
Neither must I be swayed by her appearance. I had imagined a woman torn apart by her own hatefulness, stewing in fury that she didn’t get away with her imaginary claims that an intruder killed her children.
Routier is escorted into the Mountain View unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Gatesville, Texas, where she is now one of six women awaiting execution
Instead, I find a neat, demure woman with a carefully coiffed up-do, who has succumbed to middle-aged spread but still looks very presentable.
And then there’s the moment when she muses about her work in the prison garden: ‘It’s wonderful to see plants grow, to nurture something.’
I point out the shocking irony, considering she killed those it was her job to nurture. That is, of course, if Darlie is truly guilty.
She fixes her dark eyes on me as she says: ‘I’m convicted but I am not a killer. I did not kill my two children. If they choose to kill me that’s my innocent blood that will be on their hands.’ Her tone is defiant but, incredibly, still hopeful of being believed.
The possibility of sending an innocent person to their death is a reason why I’m against the death penalty.
And after hours of poring over the terrible details of Darlie’s case I am convinced there is reasonable doubt. But that is not the same as innocence — and the jury, it would seem, held no such doubts.
The grisly murders took place inside Darlie and Darin Routiers’ home in Rowlett, Texas (pictured), on the night of June 6, 1997
On the night of June 6, 1996, Darlie was an exhausted 26-year-old mum. Her eight-month-old son Drake tended to be such a restless sleeper she’d taken to sleeping downstairs in the lounge of their large Dallas home in order to get some rest.
That night, her two eldest sons had joined her while her husband, Darin, slept upstairs with the baby.
What cannot be denied is that during the night Devon was stabbed repeatedly in the chest and Damon was stabbed in the back — in both cases with such ferocity that the knife went through their little bodies several times.
Darlie herself had a knife plunged in the arm and her throat cut so deeply doctors said her carotid artery was nicked, the blade just 2mm away from causing her to bleed to death in minutes.
While Devon died at the scene, his younger brother lost his life in hospital.
Routier shows severe bruising on her right arm after the stabbing, which she blamed on an intruder
Darlie told police the perpetrator was an intruder who had slashed a screen to come through the utility room window while they slept.
She says she didn’t wake up as the boys were stabbed, or even as her own throat was slit, but was woken by little Damon pressing on her shoulder.
She came round to a horrific scene and a man dressed in dark clothing fleeing the house through the utility room window.
She picked up the knife he dropped, rang 911, screaming in distress that her boys were dying and shouting: ‘I don’t even know who did this.’ Darin raced downstairs hearing the noise and tried in vain to save their lives.
‘I could see Devon lying there, his eyes were open,’ Darlie tells me tearfully. ‘He wasn’t moving. I remember going over to Damon.
He was lying on his back and I could see he’d been stabbed in the back. I lifted up his shirt and I put towels on him and I kept telling him: “Hang on, baby, hang on.” ’
A trial exhibit shows bloodstains in the Routiers’ home after the knife attack
She weeps as she describes the scene and I find myself crumbling as she talks of her boys’ last moments.
‘Devon and Damon were my heart,’ she tells me. ‘They were what made me happy.’
I am in agony over her tears. They are either the heartbroken memories of a devastating loss — or part of a continuous, calculated cover-up. I am completely torn.
The lounge and kitchen were covered with blood and shattered glass. Darlie was taken to hospital and photos show her bruised and bleeding. Meanwhile, police gathered evidence from the crime scene and examined the knife.
They investigated the ripped screen and dusted for prints. They mulled over what sort of criminal would break into a family home, steal nothing but take the lives of two children.
Then, when Darlie came out of surgery days later and did something so unexpected for a grieving mother, the course of the investigation changed entirely.
Prosecutors contended that Routier was angry over money problems and the burdens of motherhood (pictured with her two eldest sons)
Television news footage shows her staging a party next to the graves of her boys a week after the murders, on what would have been Devon’s seventh birthday.
In it she is seen laughing with friends, chewing gum and — in an act that would ultimately condemn her — spraying Silly String at the gravestones.
In the clip that has been shown over and over again on TV news programmes, there was no crying or solemn reflection. Was this an example of a traumatised, heartbroken mother?
‘She was shooting Silly String on the graves — she didn’t seem concerned that these children had been murdered,’ observed prosecutor Toby Shook. ‘The tape showed a very strange way to react to death.’ Within days Darlie was charged with murder.
There’s no doubt the ‘Silly String Tape’, as it came to be known, shows a grieving mother behaving in the strangest way possible and it’s something I’m desperate to ask Darlie about.
The mother suffered a slash to her neck and cuts to her shoulders (pictured in the hospital)
She looks pained as she tells me: ‘There’s not a book that tells you how to do this, how to grieve. We gave him the party he didn’t get to have. Everything we did was out of love.’
Unable to find convincing evidence to back up Darlie’s defence that a stranger murdered her sons and left her for dead, that tape was used by the prosecution as proof that Darlie killed the boys.
Her motive? She was characterised as a bottle-blonde cheerleader who was superficial and vain and had grown frustrated with being a mother. Children interfered with her lifestyle.
There were also claims of money worries — they were two months in arrears with their mortgage — and concerns that the growing family was draining finances.
I notice the scar still visible on Darlie’s neck. But the wound was all part of the cover story, it was claimed. Copious amounts of blood around the sink suggested she cut her own throat next to the taps in the kitchen.
The prosecution showed the jury this video of Routier giggling and spraying Silly String on her sons’ graves on what would have been Devon’s seventh birthday
The screen in the utility room was said to have been slashed with a bread knife kept in Darlie’s own knife block and she put it back there after she damaged the screen to create the impression of an intruder.
As for the graveside party, the jury watched the footage as many as eight times. They were convinced of her guilt. Darlie was sentenced to death.
Yet nearly 25 years on, concerns remain over whether an innocent grieving mother has been unjustly punished, torn from her surviving son, whose life has been overshadowed by unbearable loss.
Defence lawyer Stephen Cooper, who has worked on several appeals on Darlie’s behalf, told me: ‘I am about as close to it as anyone else on Earth and I can tell you she didn’t do it.’
He says the idea that Darlie slashed her own throat is laughable: she was right-handed but the wound was inflicted, he claims, as if with her left hand and so severe ‘she should have died’.
Routier (pictured in a recent mugshot, left), had told police an intruder broke into the home through, killed her sons and then slashed her neck (right) before fleeing
What of the bread knife, which had a screen fibre on it? Her appeal lawyer says that when the screen was slashed, the fibres would have gone everywhere, coating the knife — not just leaving a single fibre.
There was also a white sock spotted with the blood of the children found 75 yards from the house. Had Darlie put it there to give the impression of an intrusion?
The defence says there’s no way she would have had time to murder her boys, run three houses down to plant the sock, slash the window screen and then cut her own throat before police and paramedics arrived.
And the Silly String party? It came at the end of an emotional two-hour memorial prayer vigil by the grieving family, which was also filmed, but never shown in court.
Finally, there was one piece of critical evidence that could back up Darlie’s intruder claim — an unidentified bloodied fingerprint found at the murder scene. It didn’t belong to any family members or investigators. It has yet to be identified.
Darlie may well have been vain and materialistic but these aren’t crimes. The family may have had financial problems but is this really motive enough for murder?
Darin fell in love with Darlie when she was just a teenager. They married at 18 and she had the dream life.
A handsome husband, beautiful house, frequent holidays and three bouncing boys. She is adamant police resorted to reputation smearing in the absence of real evidence against her.
‘When you have nothing else, you go to character assassination,’ she tells me. ‘I’m being judged by people who did not know me.’
So what about Darin? When Darlie was charged the police confirmed he was not a suspect. The couple remained married until 2011 and he has publicly stated he believes she is innocent.
More from Susanna Reid For The Daily Mail…
Darlie’s appeal lawyer says that in a signed affidavit, Darin admitted to one insurance scam as well as a plot for a staged home robbery so he could collect a claim.
Darlie told us she is concerned about some of the people she has since learned he was mixing with. We approached Darin to do an interview for the programme but he declined to be interviewed.
Meanwhile the sword of Damocles dangles ever closer to Darlie. Not many women receive the ultimate penalty in the United States: 53 women are on Death Row across the country, while there are around 2,500 men.
The last woman to be executed in Texas was 38-year-old Lisa Ann Coleman six years ago. She was convicted of the murder of her girlfriend’s young son ten years earlier.
On average, a prisoner in the U.S. spends around ten years on Death Row before execution.
Darlie has been in Gatesville, where Mountain View is a unit, for 23 years due to endless appeals — the latest of which focuses on delayed DNA testing.
She has yet to be set an execution date.
‘You really have to take it one day at a time,’ says Darlie. ‘I never forget this is one of the states that has the most executions. The reality is there’s a very real possibility I could be executed.
‘Hopefully I will be exonerated. I’m less frightened; I’m at peace with myself. I didn’t do this. I did not murder my children.
‘I did not attack myself. If they choose to kill me, they’ll have to answer for that.’
After our meeting, I walk through the jail’s security gates to the freedom of the open road, never keener to be with my own family.
Questions about Darlie Routier have swirled in my head ever since. The embodiment of calculated, cold-blooded evil or a victim condemned to death for failing to play the role of grieving mother appropriately?
You decide — because as she wept through the glass, I found I could not. It’s a story that haunts me still.
- Death Row’s Women With Susanna Reid is at 9pm next Thursday on ITV.