The Death of Innocence

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

Ramirez apologized profusely to Voss, in person and in numerous plaintive phone calls. He vowed to go door-to-door to raise money to help with the hospital bills.

Then the story changed.

John Johnston
All natural: Krystal Voss and Damien Gaston met at 
Wild Oats. Their son, Kyran, was born at home.
All natural: Krystal Voss and Damien Gaston met at Wild Oats. Their son, Kyran, was born at home.

On Sunday, February 2, Ramirez returns to Alamosa at Alejo's request for a second interview. Once again, Alejo reads the suspect his rights; once again, Ramirez gives his account of how Kyran fell, with a few crucial added details.

This time around, he admits stopping on the drive down from Denver to smoke marijuana. He remembers that, after the initial fall, Kyran slipped in the tub and hit his head twice while Ramirez was splashing water on him, trying to bring him around.

Alejo finds all of this very interesting, but he also asks Ramirez dozens of questions about Krystal Voss. He explains to Ramirez the possible consequences of being an accessory to a crime and conspiring to obstruct his investigation. The injuries don't match what Ramirez is telling him, he says, and he has his own ideas why that might be the case.

"My theory in all this is that I think that possibly there's more to the story," Alejo says, "as far as you trying to cover for her."

Ramirez denies the accusation. But Alejo presses on. Ramirez concedes that Voss has a temper, although he's never seen it. He recalls that Voss said she didn't get much sleep the night before he arrived because Kyran had been so fussy. She told him she was so mad at Kyran "she could have killed him," he says, but maybe it was "just a figure of speech."

"Do you think possibly that baby was shook the night before?" Alejo asks.

Ramirez hedges. He's never seen Voss shake Kyran, but he has seen bruises on the baby before. He just figured they occurred as the kid was learning to walk. But months ago, he says, when he was teasing Voss about being too nice a person, she told him she wasn't really all that nice; one time she was so upset that she shook Kyran -- hard enough that she scared herself.

After the interview, Alejo puts Ramirez under arrest, charging him with child abuse and reckless endangerment. He then makes arrangements to head up to the hospital in Denver, determined to learn more about what happened to Kyran the night before Ramirez's visit.

Taken in the context of Ramirez's admission that he was the one who had injured Kyran, his statements about Voss's temper don't amount to much. Still, they've planted a seed in the investigation, one that Alejo is interested in cultivating as he learns more about the baby's injuries -- particularly the bruises on his chest and stomach, which one physician described as being "in multiple stages of healing."

But trying to date bruises by their appearance is a horribly inexact science; even bruises that are turning yellow might be no more than eighteen hours old. The reddish-brown and purple bruises that were observed on Kyran in the emergency room could have been contemporaneous with the head injury. According to one physician's notes, the abdominal bruises "became more clear" as the emergency team worked on the boy, indicating that they'd been recently inflicted.

"There's such variability in how long it takes a bruise to heal," says Amy Martin, deputy coroner for the Denver Medical Examiner's Office. "Usually, if there's a lot of yellow or green color to a bruise, you can feel fairly comfortable that it's not fresh; it's probably a day or two old or longer. But getting more precise than that is dangerous. I've seen brownish-red bruises that are acute; you can't say those are older than the purple ones."

Alejo, who also serves as the county's deputy coroner, didn't see any harm in being precise. In a taped conversation with Steve Gaston, he would later claim that yellowish marks observed on Kyran four days after the injury were evidence that the child had been abused before.

"Do you know anything about injuries and how long it takes for injuries to turn different colors?" Alejo asked Gaston. "For [a bruise] to turn yellow, it's been there for over a week."

On Tuesday, February 4, Alejo sits down with Damien Gaston. Gaston acknowledges that Kyran had some bruises a few weeks before after falling down some stairs -- an incident that occurred, curiously enough, while Ramirez was baby-sitting.

But last Thursday night was nothing special, Gaston says. Although Kyran has his own small bed in his parents' bedroom, he frequently wants to be in bed with them; that night he was fussy and gassy, crawling around their bed, but he eventually fell asleep. Both Kyran and Krystal were sleeping peacefully when he left for work the next morning.

Alejo wants to know if Voss has ever shaken the baby. Gaston denies it.

Next, Alejo asks to speak with Voss alone. Unlike in his interviews with Ramirez, he doesn't advise her of her rights or tape-record the session.

Alejo tells her he just wants to check on Ramirez's credibility, but the questions soon begin to focus on what she might have done to Kyran the night before. He writes the words "accident" and "homicide" on a sheet of paper, even though Kyran is still alive.

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