Shades of Guilt

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

"I guess I thought I was in love with her. I believed in her. Looking back, I feel like a real idiot."

After Voss left for work, he said, he went into the bedroom to check on Kyran. The boy was making a gurgling sound, and blood mixed with saliva was bubbling in his mouth. Ramirez panicked, and rushed the boy to the bathroom so that he could splash water on him. When he took Kyran's clothes off, he saw large bruises and some kind of "rash" on his neck. He called Voss and screamed at her to "get your ass here right now."

"I didn't know what to do," he told the court. "I didn't react right. I didn't call 911."

Damien Gaston, Krystal Voss and their son, Kyran, 
posed for a family photo shortly before they moved to 
Alamosa two years ago.
Damien Gaston, Krystal Voss and their son, Kyran, posed for a family photo shortly before they moved to Alamosa two years ago.

In the days that followed, Voss led him to believe that Kyran was improving, he said. She persuaded him to leave the emergency room and take off for Denver. She urged him to stick to his story. She wanted to know what he was telling Alejo. She "coached" him on how to answer the questions, how to handle a polygraph test (which he ultimately declined to take). It was all Voss.

"How is the jury supposed to believe this version is the truth?" Gonzales asked.

"I don't know," Ramirez said, wincing. "I decided at a certain point that, regardless of what happened to me, I'm going to tell the truth. I'm going to give a little boy a voice."

Gonzales asked the witness if he saw the person in the courtroom who had hurt Kyran.

"I sure do," Ramirez said, furiously pointing a finger at Voss.

In more than nine hours of testimony, it was the one moment that Ramirez actually met the gaze of his ex-lover.

The two court-appointed defense attorneys, Cole and Marquez, were a study in contrasts. Cole, a veteran public defender from the Denver area, was lean, well-coiffed, dispassionate and efficient, in the manner of Law and Order's Jack McCoy. Marquez, a well-known attorney in the San Luis Valley, was broad-shouldered and balding, given to expansive gestures and pregnant pauses -- and more than a quiver of outrage.

It was Marquez who stood to cross-examine Ramirez, and the tone of the marathon inquisition that followed was established in the first few seconds.

"You said you want to give this little boy a voice?" he asked.

"Yes," Ramirez murmured.

"Speak up!" Marquez snapped, as if training a small animal.

"Yes," Ramirez repeated, a little louder.

Marquez brandished a copy of a letter Ramirez had written to prosecutors just two weeks earlier. The state's star witness was so concerned about being a voice for Kyran, Marquez observed, that he'd demanded "immunity from charges based on my testimony" and had threatened to stand mute at Voss's trial, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if he didn't get it.

"That letter was written based on, unfortunately, influence from jailhouse lawyers," Ramirez said, his voice fading again. "I really just wanted to speak to my lawyer."

Marquez zeroed in on the deal that Ramirez had made with prosecutors. Didn't anyone explain to him that if he stuck to his story about covering for Voss, he already had immunity? "You have some concerns that if Ms. Voss is found not guilty, something will happen to you?" he asked.

Ramirez professed not to know the dire penalties for the charges he would have faced if he hadn't taken the deal. He didn't think he'd reaped the benefits of a generous plea bargain. "Prison is no benefit, sir," he huffed.

He didn't want to go over the lies he'd told the police before he decided to give a little boy a voice. But Marquez insisted on it. He played the tape of Ramirez's first interview with Alejo, so the jury could hear how fluent and inventive a liar the witness really was. When it was over, Marquez pointed out that mixed in with the ridiculous story of Kyran's accidental fall was a vivid account of dizziness, a seizure, limpness, a blown pupil -- all credible signs of a child succumbing to the effects of an abusive head trauma. Everyone agreed that Ramirez had fabricated the accident -- but perhaps, Marquez suggested, the symptoms he described were a true rendering of what he saw unfolding before his eyes.

"Somehow you were able to make up this entire story, and now you want this jury to believe it was all a lie," he said.

"I did make that up," Ramirez insisted. "A lot of it. I was making things up as I went."

"You said you were afraid you would get blamed for hurting this child. So you told everybody that you hurt this child, didn't you?"

"I was trying to help Ms. Voss," Ramirez said. "I was panicking. I'm not proud of it, sir."

Marquez hammered away at the contradictory statements Ramirez had made about why he didn't simply call 911 when he found out that Kyran was badly hurt, rather than waiting for Voss to arrive. "If Krystal had acted the way you acted, Kyran would never have gone to the hospital," he said.

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