Circumstantial Evidence

“This was all circumstantial evidence. There was no concrete evidence. Don’t get me wrong… all the evidence, all of it pointed to him. But there was no concrete evidence.”

Sound familiar? It should, because books, movies, and TV often perpetuate the belief that circumstantial evidence may not be used to convict a defendant. But this assumption is incorrect. In many cases, circumstantial evidence is the only evidence linking an accused to a crime; direct evidence – a confession or an eyewitness – may simply not exist. The U.S. Supreme Court, in fact, has stated that “circumstantial evidence is intrinsically no different from testimonial (direct evidence).”

Each piece of evidence, approached individually, can be easily dismissed, i.e. Lots of women have suicidal thoughts after giving birth. That doesn’t prove Darlie murdered her sons!” Actually, that is a true statement. In and of itself, that circumstance proves nothing. However, when evidence is approached collectively it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to dismiss. The following scenario, written by a very wise friend of mine (thanks, T) illustrates how compelling and reliable circumstantial evidence can be:

Say the police arrive at a 24-hour gas station to find the clerk dead on the floor and an empty cash register.

  1. No fingerprints, no footprints, no DNA, no murder weapon, nobody saw or heard anything.
  2. They check the drive-off pump cameras and get one night vision snap of the license plate, but can only make out the third letter “X”.
  3. They canvas the hood and some kid says, “Yeah, I was with my buddy Bob when he did it…we hit one of those yellow poles by the pump as we backed out.”
  4. They check the pole and find flakes of red paint.
  5. They go to Bob’s and he’s got a red car with a fresh dent in the back with flakes of yellow paint in it.
  6. The third number on his plate is X.
  7. He has $1,300 in small bills.
  8. Bob claims his buddy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but a half dozen other people say he bragged about doing it.

Bob’s in big trouble. Now, you can argue:

  • His friend is lying
  • Many cars are red and could have left the paint on the pole.
  • Many cars have X as their third letter
  • Bob may have hit a taxicab and got yellow paint on his car.
  • Bob may have won that money playing poker.
  • Bob may have been confused about his alibi.
  • Bob may have been bragging about committing the crime to be a big shot among his pals.

Sure, you can argue ALL those things, and a good defense attorney will. But if you think that constitutes reasonable doubt, then you’re kinda stupid 😉

With this in mind, let’s review the evidence in Darlie’s case.
1. Unusual concern about fingerprints on the knife as her boys lay dying.
2. No blood or scuff marks on the backyard fence or gate. The gate was closed when police arrived, even though it was difficult to open and close.
3. Enough blood on the door leading to the garage that it dripped down the door, but no blood on or around the exit window in the garage.
4. Screen debris on the bread knife from the Routier’s kitchen.
5. No evidence whatsoever of a knife being dropped on the utility room floor.
6. The bloody knife imprint on the carpet near Devon and the heavy trail indicating a fresh supply of Darlie’s blood being fed to it.
7. The wine glass that somehow was knocked to the floor, despite testimony that it couldn’t have happened with a bump, jostle, or tip of the wine rack.
8. No cuts on Darlie’s feet, despite her claim of running through the kitchen numerous times, and at least twice in the dark.
9. The murder weapon was a knife from her own home.
10. Very minor displacement of furniture in the family room, indicative of a clumsy attempt to stage the crime scene.
11. Her claim of having placed a towel on Damon’s back is directly contradicted by the first responders.
12. Darlie’s conflicting stories to various police officers, hospital employees, friends, and family members about what happened that night.
13. Although Darlie later claimed to have no memory of the attack and only a vague memory of the intruder leaving, she wrote people from jail while awaiting trial claiming, “I know who did it…I saw him!”
14. Darlie’s claim that five-year-old Damon, after being stabbed in the liver and lungs, was walking and speaking to her for some time after the intruder left.
15. Blood being washed and wiped away in and around the sink area.
16. No blood on the section of the couch where Darlie said her head was resting.
17. No cast-off blood in the family room or kitchen; just smudges or round drops indicating slow movement through the area.
18. Bruises on right arm which didn’t show up until more than 4 days after the murders. No blunt-trauma bruises anywhere else on her face or body.
19. Darlie clearly saying on the 911 call that “I was fighting!” and then changing it to “I was frightening” at trial. (This switcheroo coincided with her traumatic amnesia claim).
20. The boys’ cast-off blood on the shoulder and back of her nightshirt.
21. Darlie’s superficial wounds were drastically different from her sons’ deep, penetrating stab wounds.
22. The overturned vacuum cleaner in the kitchen, with broken glass and Darlie’s bloody footprints underneath.
23. Four cuts in Darlie’s nightshirt with no corresponding injuries.
24. Darin’s accounts being constantly expanded to explain his wife’s suspicious and contradictory statements.
25. Darlie’s suicide note written a month prior to the murders.
26. Financial problems so severe that their house was on the verge of foreclosure, and Darin’s application for a $5,000 vacation loan was turned down the day before the murders.
27. The complete lack of any evidence that someone else was in that house during the time of the murders.
28. The whole idea of a stranger walking through the pitch-black garage without bloodying anything, tripping over anything, disturbing the windowsill dust, or transferring blood inside and outside the garage.
29. Animal bowls outside, a large animal cage partly blocking the garage window – all strong deterrents for an intruder.
30. A vicious cat who, when approached, would hiss and flail around in his cage just a few feet from the couch.
31. Expensive jewelry and Darlie’s purse, in plain sight on the kitchen counter, were not taken.
32. The idea of an intruder stabbing two little boys to death for absolutely no reason, and leaving the adult who can identify him alive and armed with a knife.

And there you have it. The totality of the evidence, the whole ball of wax, the big picture. To throw all of this out the window is to throw out common sense as well, something that jurors are told to take with them into deliberations. Circumstances don’t lie – but people do. There is no “a ha!” moment in such trials. There is no smoking gun, nor should there be. It’s a process, a process that requires common sense, reasoning, and the ability to piece together circumstantial information. That is what the jurors did in the Darlie Routier case and, my friend, they got it right.