Shades of Guilt

In the murder trial of Krystal Voss, doubt was everywhere and nothing was reasonable.

The case against Voss had problems, too. The nighttime shaking she described in her statement didn't sound nearly severe enough to cause the massive injuries the doctors saw, and both Voss and her husband insisted that the child was fine when Gaston left for work the next morning. There was no prior record of abuse, and relatives uniformly described Voss as an overprotective and exceptionally patient mother.

Yet the prosecution's theory of the case had Kyran's mother shaking him within an inch of his life, leaving him struggling to breathe in his bed -- and then waiting calmly for her ex-lover to show up so they could work out a plan for getting him to the hospital later that day.

The task for both sides was formidable. The prosecutors had to get the jury to believe Ramirez, who'd overnight gone from prime suspect to the state's star witness. They had to portray Voss as a master of manipulation, caught in a web of her own self-incriminating statements. The defense would hinge on shredding Ramirez's credibility, exposing the problems with the medical evidence and challenging the integrity of the investigation and the so-called confession Voss had made.

Doctors at Children's Hospital labored to keep Kyran 
alive; he died in foster care seven weeks after he was 
hurt.
Doctors at Children's Hospital labored to keep Kyran alive; he died in foster care seven weeks after he was hurt.

Like plot points in a bad mystery novel, the themes were baldly outlined in the attorneys' opening statements. "In the early morning hours of January 31, 2003, Kyran Gaston-Voss was hurt," began Alamosa Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Gonzales. "He was hurt badly. He was hurt by his mother, and those injuries ultimately led to his death. That's why we're here today."

"Krystal Voss is no murderer," retorted defense attorney Wayne Cole. "Patrick Ramirez, who at least seemed to be a friend, was anything but."

Although Ramirez at first denied Alejo's suggestion that he was covering for Voss, the idea "planted a seed in Patrick's mind," Cole said. "He blamed Krystal, and he was rewarded.... That is why we are here. We are all here because of Patrick Ramirez's lies."


The jurors didn't have to wait long to satisfy their curiosity about the man who, according to Cole, had dragged them all into the courtroom. Patrick Ramirez was the state's second witness.

He was preceded by Elizabeth Kinney, an emergency-room physician, who said that Voss seemed dazed when she brought her child to the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center. "I remember thinking it was odd that she didn't understand that a dilated pupil was a sign of serious injury," Kinney recalled. "She didn't seem to understand that Kyran was at death's door."

Ramirez "seemed more agitated than she did," the doctor added.

Nearly two years later, Ramirez had lost little of his jumpiness. He moved tensely to the stand, spoke so softly at times that the jury could barely hear him, and missed obvious prompts from Deputy DA Gonzales. After the first few faint replies, Gonzales asked if he was nervous.

"Extremely, yes," Ramirez replied. He was "just a nervous person."

Ramirez wore a dark suit, close-cropped hair and a jailhouse pallor. Everything except the suit was courtesy of the deal he'd made with the district attorney. Last April, he was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to tampering with evidence and reckless endangerment of a child -- the feeblest felony and mildest misdemeanor the prosecution could offer in the case. With good behavior, he'd be back on the streets by New Year's. In return, all he had to do was repeat on the stand the story he'd told Alejo the third time around, about how his previous stories were all lies designed to protect Voss.

Still, there were a few nasty new wrinkles in the version Ramirez gave the jury. He'd told Alejo that his sexual relationship with Voss had ended months before the day Kyran was hurt, due in part to his wife's displeasure with the situation. He'd said much the same under oath at a preliminary hearing. But now he said he'd come all the way to Alamosa to bring Voss back to Denver for a possible threesome with his wife.

"We were going to party and hang out and see what happened," Ramirez explained. "This is embarrassing to say in front of everybody, but I was going to try to have sex with two women.... The three of us were well aware of what may happen."

Voss was outside the trailer as he pulled up, looking upset. She said she'd had a rough night with Kyran and "could have killed him." And she told him she shook Kyran -- not only the night before, but that morning, too, because he'd been acting "horrible."

She begged him to help her. It was Voss who came up with the story about Kyran falling off his shoulders, Ramirez testified, a story they could tell in the emergency room so that Voss wouldn't have her child taken away from her.

"I was pretty reluctant," he said. "I didn't think anyone would buy it. But she has a way of looking at me, a kind of gaze, and I guess I was a sucker for it."

"What was going through your mind?" Gonzales asked.

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