Older but Bitter

Sixty-eight-year-old Wanda Crawford hasn't killed anyone yet. But authorities say it's not for lack of trying.

Stephanie had other earmarks of the syndrome as well, including subdural hematoma and retinal hemorrhaging. She was comatose when the paramedics wheeled her into the emergency room, and she was experiencing intermittent seizures.

The severity of Stephanie's condition led doctors to believe that her injuries had occurred mere moments before she lost consciousness. "If a baby is going to arrest," Thompson testified, "it will happen right after the brain injury." Stephanie's decline would have been dramatic and fast.

If she'd been hurt before 8 a.m. and someone waited until 9:45 to phone the paramedics, Thompson testified, the ambulance crew would have found a dead baby on their arrival.

The doctors carefully checked Stephanie for signs of external trauma, particularly because of their suspicions. In child-abuse cases, Thompson testified, "we frequently will find bruising or scarring, sometimes cigarette burns, sometimes deformity of the extremities where fractures have healed or where a fracture has occurred." Stephanie had no sign of injuries, either new or old.

By 2 p.m. on the day Stephanie was hurt, police investigators were already focusing on Crawford as a suspect, and they told the De La Rosas so. The words had barely left a detective's mouth when Crawford walked into the pediatric intensive-care unit and sat down next to Troy. Troy says he walked out of the room. "I didn't want to have anything to do with her," he notes.

Selina, however, tried to question Crawford about the incident. "[Crawford] said that Stephanie had fallen and hit her head and that she didn't know what happened," Selina testified. "She seemed to be kind of matter-of-fact. She wasn't upset or anything. I asked her if she did CPR on Stephanie, and Wanda said no, that she had been too scared."

Crawford stayed only a few minutes before abruptly departing--she said she had an appointment. It seemed to Selina that she'd stopped by only to drop off Stephanie's diaper bag. Crawford didn't even ask how Stephanie was faring, Selina says. And at that point, the prognosis was pitiful.

The doctors thought at first that Stephanie wouldn't make it through the night. Days later, when her condition improved a little, the experts told Troy and Selina that they could expect their daughter to remain in the hospital for two months. And they cautioned that she would probably never regain the mental and physical abilities she'd had before the injury. She was legally blind, they said, as well as deaf. They referred to her physical condition as "spastic paraplegia," which means she had little control over her movements.

The De La Rosas and their families refused to give up hope. "My father brought in an intercessor. That's a go-between to the Lord," Selina explains as she sits in her living room at home. "And she prayed over Stephanie, and it was amazing. In a week, she opened her eyes. And then she got off the ventilator. We were so excited!

"The doctors said she was not going to live. They said she was going to be a vegetable. And look at her." Selina, her voice tinged with pride, gestures toward the child-sized recliner where her daughter lays. "She has some disabilities, but she certainly isn't a vegetable."

Stephanie was able to go home nineteen days after she was injured. But when the De La Rosas brought her home, Troy says, she was a "totally different baby" from the one who'd waved goodbye to him less than three weeks earlier. "We'd put her in the crib and she wouldn't move," he testified in court. "She'd just lie there."

Although the De La Rosas were ruled out as suspects soon after Stephanie was hurt, the investigation of Wanda Crawford went slowly. Her daycare license was summarily suspended while Colorado Springs police detectives collected medical data and looked closely at the previous complaints Crawford had accumulated during her eighteen years as a daycare provider.

Some of the most incriminating evidence against Crawford, however, came from Crawford herself--her story about the events leading up to Stephanie's injuries changed numerous times.

When paramedics first responded to Crawford's 911 call, Crawford told them Stephanie had been walking around the room before she fell. Later, Crawford allegedly changed her story to include the claim that Stephanie had hit her head on a refrigerator as she was falling.

In yet another version of the incident, police and paramedics testified at trial, Crawford told them she had been in another room changing a baby's diaper when the "accident" happened. She said she learned Stephanie had fallen when a two-year-old girl came to her and reported that Stephanie was "kicking." When she went to check on Stephanie, Crawford told them, the baby appeared to be choking or having a seizure.

Crawford was arrested January 8, 1994, and was quickly released on a $2,000 cash bond to await trial on charges of child abuse. She relinquished her daycare license soon afterward.

Crawford's trial, which began in late September 1994, was packed with emotion. Prosecutor Lisa Kirkman Werner was then three months pregnant and wearing maternity clothes, a fact that the jury couldn't help but notice.

"Stephanie can't see," Kirkman Werner said in opening arguments. "There is a question about whether or not she can hear. She will never walk. She will never talk. The prognosis for Stephanie's future is extremely bleak. What this case is about is what happened to Stephanie."

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