Older but Bitter

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

It was clear from the beginning that Crawford's attorney, Scott Sells, was fighting an uphill battle. The weaknesses in his case were evident even in his opening argument.

The comment Crawford made about Stephanie walking around before she fell, Sells told the jury, "is going to be one of the real unanswerable questions about this case, because everybody knows that Stephanie couldn't walk. Stephanie could barely sit up."

The doctors who testified for the prosecution were firm in their diagnoses and just as certain that, given the time parameters involved, neither Troy nor Selina could have shaken the baby. And much of the doctors' testimony was excruciatingly painful to hear.

Colorado Springs neurosurgeon Michael Brown, who'd analyzed a January 1994 CAT scan performed on Stephanie, told the jury that her brain was "basically shrunken and dying." The amount of shrinkage and atrophy, he noted, indicated an extensive amount of injury, leading him to believe that any gains Stephanie might make "would be minimal at best."

California's Susan Reichert, who examined Stephanie's records and watched videotapes of the baby's development, told the court she had been struck by the differences between Stephanie at nine months and Stephanie at twelve months.

At nine months, Reichert said, Stephanie was crawling and sitting up by herself, "very much on target." At twelve months, however, Stephanie could no longer hold up her head, let alone sit up. "She is not utilizing her face muscles in the same way," Reichert testified. "She has a vacant stare in her eyes. She does make noises, but they're more like moans.

"She is a devastated baby."
None of the doctors seemed to think it likely that Stephanie would ever walk or talk. And though her pediatrician, David Baswell, testified that Stephanie's condition had improved somewhat since her injury, he said he sometimes found Selina's expectations of more significant strides to be unrealistic.

"When I meet with [Selina]," Baswell said, "she points out things to me that she places a great deal of weight on as very favorable things. I look at them as very minimal changes in the child's status.

"I think [Selina] reads into things excessively," he continued. "I think she hopes, prays and wishes her child will return to some degree of normalcy. We all hope that, but I think, realistically, that will not happen."

When the doctors were done, the prosecution played for the jury an edited video of Stephanie's life that had been culled from the many hours of tapes her parents had shot of her. There was Stephanie on her six-month birthday, her baptism, her christening. She was a smiling, happy baby.

Wanda Crawford never took the stand. On October 12, 1994, the jury found her guilty of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.

At her sentencing hearing the following month, Crawford did speak, pleading with the court for leniency. "I pray to God every day and every night that he will lay his hands on [Stephanie]," Crawford said. "If I could make that child well by taking my own life, I would."

Judge Franklin was unimpressed by Crawford's claims, or by the letters he'd received from her friends attesting to her good character. The sentencing guidelines called for a minimum prison term of ten years. The judge ordered that Crawford serve eighteen, a virtual life sentence for a woman her age.

With Crawford behind bars, the De La Rosas tried to pick up the pieces of their life. They shuttled their daughter to speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and to appointments with neurosurgeons and pediatricians. Selina quit her full-time job in order to spend more time with Stephanie, though she continued to sell Mary Kay cosmetics.

But there were still legal matters to take care of. The De La Rosas planned to sue Crawford to help defray the costs of Stephanie's medical care. If they died before Stephanie, they worried, who would care for her and how?

A trial date was set for February 1996. But Crawford would be back in court before then.

In a pre-sentence investigation of Crawford completed before Judge Franklin slapped her with eighteen years, Crawford told a probation officer that her health was generally good and described her mental health as "excellent." The only thing that bothered her, Crawford said, was her arthritis and occasional shooting pains in her head.

Somehow, though, by late 1995, Crawford was serving her time in the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo, a new prison specifically designed for the incarceration and treatment of chronically mentally ill inmates. Crawford's attorney, Dick Tegtmeier, didn't return calls seeking comment. But earlier this month, according to the El Paso County District Attorney's office, Tegtmeier entered dual pleas for Crawford in the murder conspiracy case: not guilty by reason of impaired mental ability and not guilty by reason of insanity (Darnell's attorney has entered a standard not-guilty plea for his client.) According to court records, Tegtmeier also has asked the court to allow Crawford to undergo a daylong "confidential neuropsychological evaluation" at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center.

"I don't know what they have up their sleeve," says Selina De La Rosa. "I think her attorney is trying to say she has Alzheimer's, which is why she did what she did."

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