The Death of Innocence

The police say Krystal Voss shook her son hard enough to kill him. The evidence says something else.

Of course, an unconscious child could have a bowel movement. But that didn't explain the scene Gaston found in the bathroom, where Ramirez said he'd taken the unresponsive child to splash water on him. There were feces splattered on the sides of the tub and the wall, as if something traumatic had happened there. Ramirez's account makes no mention of the mess.

Gaston took pictures of the bathroom and brought in friends, including Carmody, to see the place for themselves before cleaning up. "There were a lot of things that weren't noted in the police report," Carmody says. "There were a lot of questions that weren't asked, like why Patrick re-dressed an unconscious baby."

"For a long time, I held onto the possibility that Pat's original story could have been true," Gaston says, "and that what caused the injuries was him not handling the situation correctly. Now I think it's a fabricated story."

Gaston has his own suspicions about what might have happened to his son. In his first interview, Ramirez said the boy "was kind of nervous" after he woke up and found his mommy gone. Anyone who'd ever spent time with Kyran knew how upset he could become when separated from Voss.

"I've seen how mad that baby gets when his mommy isn't around," says Voss's mother, Terry Munk. "When she walked out of the room, he absolutely threw a fit."

"Kyran is a light sleeper," Gaston says. "I think he heard Krystal leave, he woke up and was crying, and Patrick snapped. I get the impression he beat him up. The clothes were in the tub; maybe he tried to wash off the blood with cold water. Maybe Kyran was scared, tried to get out of the tub, and that caused more injury."

Gaston's scenario describes what child-abuse researchers term the "impulse homicide," in which a trivial provocation results in a sudden eruption of rage. "The perpetrator is often a husband or boyfriend or, less often, the mother," explain the authors of Forensic Pathology, a standard text in the field. "Children crying or dirtying their diapers give rise to a sudden venting of suppressed anger and frustration by the perpetrator. Typically, the child is picked up and thrown or slammed against an object, floor, or wall."

In Kyran's case, the scenario is sheer speculation. But the impulse homicide is a far more common cause of death among murdered children than Shaken Baby Syndrome. In fact, SBS is a finding that many respected pathologists, including the man who performed the autopsy on Kyran Gaston-Voss, simply don't accept.

The notion of SBS hinges on the premise that it's possible to shake a child so severely as to cause fatal brain damage, without any sort of direct-impact injury to the head; the damage comes from the acceleration-deceleration effect of the head being whipped back and forth. Research on the subject dates back thirty years, but critics of SBS say the research is greatly flawed.

That children, especially newborns, can be injured by shaking is undisputed. But studies on primates conducted decades ago suggest that it takes an incredible amount of force to kill a child simply by shaking him -- particularly if that child is as large and developed as 28-pound Kyran.

"It's an extremely controversial subject," says Amy Martin, Denver's deputy coroner. "There are pediatricians and forensic pathologists who don't even believe it exists, that you always have to have some kind of impact, whether you can document it or not. Frequently, there is a combination of a shaking and an impact; the perpetrator shook the baby and threw him in the crib or against the wall. Personally, I have not seen one where there's absolutely no physical or historical evidence of impact."

Despite the theory of the case advanced by doctors at Children's Hospital and doggedly pursued by Alejo -- that Kyran was violently shaken -- his autopsy report makes no mention of Shaken Baby Syndrome. According to the report, Kyran died from injuries "incurred when the deceased was either struck by a blunt object or hurled against a blunt object."

"I don't believe in shaken babies," says Robert Bux, the deputy medical examiner for El Paso County who performed the autopsy. "I've always asked people who believe in this to give me a case where this occurred in public. I don't want one where it occurred in the privacy of their house, because people lie. I want a public exhibition of it, with a resulting injury. It doesn't exist."

Bux's report doesn't rule out the possibility that Kyran suffered some type of acceleration injury; it does, however, detail the fatal damage to his brain in a manner that makes it almost impossible to accept the case that has been built against Krystal Voss. Regardless of what side they're on in the SBS debate, several pathologists consulted by Westword, including Bux, agree on one basic point: The brain injury Kyran suffered would have produced immediate, dramatic symptoms. Some forms of mild brain injury can take hours to manifest themselves, as Alejo claimed, or even days or weeks, but Kyran's acute subdural hematoma isn't one of them.

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