The Death of Innocence

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

"I'd hate to see anyone go to prison for homicide when it was really an accident," he says.

Voss says that Kyran was waking up every half hour or so that night, passing gas and wiggling around her head. Her story closely tracks Gaston's, but Alejo tells her he doesn't think she's telling him the truth. His tone becomes increasingly accusatory.

"You shook him, didn't you?" he asks.

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.

Voss admits that she did, although what she describes sounds more like a jiggle. She was frustrated from lack of sleep, she says, so she finally propped herself up on one elbow, sat Kyran up and shook him. Then she put him on the other side of her, sang to him and rubbed his tummy. When he woke up again a little while later, she nudged him over to Damien and finally fell asleep.

Alejo asks her to demonstrate the shaking. After a dozen or so simulations, he says, "That's what did it!" He draws a diagram of the skull and explains how she might have injured her son's brain.

Voss can't believe it. She hadn't been forceful at all. She tells him Kyran was fine the next morning -- laughing, playing, eating breakfast. Alejo says that doesn't matter, that it can take hours for the brain to swell. He hovers over a tearful Voss and insists that she write a detailed statement.

"I continued to wake to move him off my head or try to comfort him," she writes. "I later awoke from a little sleep angry at Kyran. I grabbed him out of bed and shook him 2-3 times, and probably more violently than I meant to, then swiftly put Kyran on the other side of me . . .he went back to sleep to awake later. I told Damien . . .I needed help with the baby, that I didn't want to hurt him."

At Alejo's urging, at this point she inserts a damning phrase: "In looking back he'd already been hurt . . .I think I accidentally added to, or began as the case is, the trauma to my son's brain that happened the next day."

Alejo confers with the doctors. He returns with a social services worker, who explains that the state is taking temporary custody of Kyran. Alejo tells Voss the doctors don't think her story explains the massive injuries to the boy. "Didn't you slam him into the wall?" he asks. "Maybe you slammed him into the floor."

Voss denies slamming her child into anything. After nearly two hours, the interview finally lurches to a halt. Exhausted, she heads back to Kyran's room.

Voss says now that she felt like "a prisoner of war" during her interrogation and only wanted to get out of there, back to Kyran. "I explained how it was and showed him over and over what I did," Voss says. "I'd had very little sleep over the past four days at the hospital and hadn't had a solid night's sleep in eighteen months. I was fried, and somehow he convinced me that I could have injured my son."

She didn't see a copy of her statement until weeks later. She was horrified to discover what she'd written, how easily she'd gone along with the notion that she had violently shaken Kyran.

"What I was feeling was, 'Oh, my God, I left my kid there; it's my fault,'" she says. "I was looking for something I might have done, because I felt responsible."

Three nights in the county jail have done wonders for Patrick Ramirez's attitude. When, after obtaining Voss's self-incriminating statement, Alejo sits down with him on February 5 for their third and final interview, Ramirez is eager to cooperate.

He's so eager, in fact, that Alejo appears to be prompting him rather than conducting an inquisition, taking him through a much-polished recitation. The two are chummy now, with Ramirez calling the sergeant "Harry" throughout the taped session; the transformation is so striking that Voss's supporters will later wonder what they discussed before the tape recorder was turned on.

"I'm bringing you out for another interview, Pat," Alejo begins, "because I think you left some things out of what you told me the first time."

"My first statement was not true," Ramirez says. "I didn't do any drugs, and I hadn't been drinking...This whole time, I've been covering up for Krystal."

"Why were you covering for her?"

"When I got there, she was visibly -- I don't know if the word is distraught or shaken or nervous... She said she needed my help... She said she lost her cool, and she might have hurt Kyran. She said she lost her temper and was shaking him; she may have shaken him too hard...

"I asked right away, 'Is he all right?' She says, 'He's fine, he's resting now... When I go to work, I want you to wait a little bit and call me, and then we can take him to the doctor, and we can try to make up a story because I don't want to lose my son.' She kept reassuring me he's okay, he's going to be fine."

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