Shades of Guilt

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

Ramirez disagreed. "If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't have gone to the hospital," he said.

"If it wasn't for you, he wouldn't have had to go to the hospital," Marquez bristled. "You're the one who hurt this child."

"No, sir," Ramirez said.

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.

The mauling was interrupted by the evening break. The next day, Marquez kept Ramirez on the stand for another five hours. The big man paced and jabbed, patiently working the testimony, landing a surprise haymaker now and then.

On two occasions, when Marquez approached him, Ramirez actually flinched, as if the ordeal was about to turn physical. During breaks, he entered and left the courtroom with eyes downcast, friendless except for the sheriff's deputy escorting him. His path required him to squeeze past the defense table, inches from Voss, but the two kept their backs to each other.

Marquez played the tape of the second interview with Alejo, the one in which Ramirez admitted to smoking marijuana on the drive to Alamosa. After his arrest, he denied that he'd done any drugs that day, just as he denied so much else that he'd told the sergeant. Marquez wondered why Ramirez bothered to mention marijuana in the first place -- unless he was trying to come clean with a cop who was pressuring him to take a polygraph.

"Did you throw in the marijuana as a gift for Sergeant Alejo?" he asked. "Do you tell people you commit crimes just for the fun of it?"

"I don't know," Ramirez said. "I was just trying to keep my composure."

Marquez led Ramirez through his final account of what happened that day -- the version in which he discovered Kyran badly injured in his bed, tried to revive him and then called Voss. The entire sequence of events, Ramirez agreed, took about fifteen minutes. That left a substantial gap in the period he was alone with Kyran, as much as thirty minutes that Ramirez could not account for. Still, he again denied that he'd done anything to hurt Kyran.

But Marquez wasn't done yet. He waded through a concordance of Ramirez's various statements to Alejo, trying to persuade the jury that this final account had been crafted in response to suggestions Alejo had made in previous interviews. It was Alejo, after all, who'd first brought up the "theory" that Ramirez was covering for Voss. It was Alejo who hinted that Voss might have shaken her boy the night before, days before he ever obtained any corroboration on that point from Voss -- or Ramirez. And as his interviews with Ramirez progressed, seemingly innocuous details became more sinister.

For example, the first time Ramirez told the sergeant what Voss had said about a rough night with Kyran, "I could have killed him" was presented as a simple figure of speech. By the third interview, Ramirez was treating it as a literal threat: "She said that if it wasn't for Damien that prior night, she would have hurt Kyran."

Marquez asked Ramirez if he'd ever said he could kill someone and not meant it.

"That's not terminology I would use," Ramirez replied.

The exchange prompted a quick huddle of the lawyers in the judge's chambers. Ramirez's denial that he'd ever talked about killing someone had opened the door for the defense to introduce his criminal record, which included 1993 assault charges that had been pleaded down to a couple of misdemeanors -- and a 2001 summons issued by Denver police after Ramirez allegedly threatened to kill a doctor at Children's Hospital. Ramirez had pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace, and the threat charge had been dismissed.

But Judge John Kuenhold decided that Ramirez should be given a chance to close that door. When questioning resumed, the witness quickly corrected himself. "Yes, I've used that expression before," he said.

As the afternoon wore on, Marquez returned to the notion that Ramirez wanted to be a voice for Kyran. He'd testified that, after five days of lying, he decided to tell the truth because he finally realized how badly the child was hurt. But he'd known that all along, Marquez insisted. At the ER, Dr. Kinney had declared that the baby was not going to make it. Alejo had told him that Kyran might die. And Ramirez had told Alejo that, when he saw the dilated pupil, he "knew that baby was hurt, and hurt bad.... I thought he was possibly dead right there."

"You are now saying you didn't think he was hurt very bad," Marquez said.

"I didn't realize the full extent of his injuries," Ramirez replied.

Marquez paused. He shrugged, an enormous shudder of disgust. "I have nothing further," he said.

On redirect, prosecutor Gonzales labored to patch Ramirez's credibility back together. He played the tape of the third interview, in which Ramirez gave Alejo an account of the crime that fit neatly with the investigator's theory. But by now the jury had heard so many versions of what happened the day Kyran was hurt, all from the same man, that there seemed little point in asking any more questions.

Harry Alejo fared much better than Patrick Ramirez.

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