Shades of Guilt

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

An ex-Marine who's spent the last ten years as the only full-time investigator in the sheriff's office, Alejo is a veteran of the witness stand. He came across as affable but durable -- a Mike Mazurki type, capable of shrugging off jabs, haymakers and anything else the defense could throw at him.

Yes, he recalled his first conversation with Krystal Voss in the emergency room. It took some time to get her attention, to get her off her cell phone. He sounded slightly annoyed at the memory. He didn't bring a tape recorder or advise her of her rights when he questioned her a few days later in Denver because, he explained blandly, he hadn't come to arrest her.

As Alejo told it, the statement Voss made about shaking her baby just came out of nowhere. "I told her Patrick had been arrested," he recalled. "She was talking freely...within five to ten minutes, she kind of put her head down. She stopped talking. She looked back at me, and her eyes were watery. I said, 'Things happen.'

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.

"She tells me that on the thirtieth, Kyran had had stomach problems.... She grabbed Kyran and shook him two to three times violently.... She told me she was not gentle with him," Alejo said.

"I just looked at her. To be honest, I didn't know what to say. I realized I just got a confession. I asked her if she could please put that in writing for me."

On cross, Cole established that Alejo often didn't tape interviews, relying instead on handwritten notes that were shredded after he wrote up his reports. His reports and prior testimony in the Voss case had numerous omissions and errors, the attorney noted. He'd mixed up statements given by Ramirez at different times, mischaracterized photos taken at the Voss home, misstated dates and events, failed to interview all relevant witnesses and generally conducted a less-than-ideal investigation.

"I'm not the brightest guy in the world," Alejo said disarmingly. "Sometimes I get confused."

But he was adamant that he hadn't coerced the miraculous confession from Voss.

From that point forward, the prosecution's case seemed to gather steam. The next witness was Kathryn Wells, a pediatrician and medical director of the Denver Family Crisis Center, who gave a lengthy PowerPoint show on shaken babies. Wells, who'd examined Kyran at Children's Hospital, testified that his injuries could have occurred hours before Ramirez arrived. She also believed that his bruises "seemed to be in different stages of evolution" -- another detail pointing at Voss.

Closely questioned by the defense, Wells conceded that there was no reliable way to date bruises unless they were already turning yellow; her report had described the bruises as purplish. But the defense's biggest hurdle wasn't the medical evidence -- which, CSI scripts to the contrary, didn't instantly identify the perpetrator -- or even the unflappable Alejo. It was a county social worker named Marcia Tuggle, who'd interviewed both Ramirez and Voss about what had happened to Kyran.

Tuggle was the case's October surprise. Alejo had been present at her meetings with both suspects but had failed to mention these events in his reports. Tuggle didn't file a report with Alejo on her interviews until almost eighteen months later. The defense didn't learn that Tuggle kept notes on the meetings until more than a year into the discovery process and didn't obtain access to her notes until October, three weeks before the trial began.

The notes were dynamite. Tuggle's meeting with Ramirez had taken place after his arrest but before his "change of heart" with Alejo. It was a transitional interview, with Ramirez still telling pieces of the old story about Kyran's accidental fall but trying out new bits of information. He told Tuggle he was upset that Voss hadn't asked about him since his arrest and said that he'd had time to think about things.

According to Tuggle's notes, Ramirez said he didn't think Kyran hit the ground "hard enough to hurt him." He wasn't that careless with the child and may not have dropped him inside the house at all: "He doesn't think he hurt the child enough" to cause such dire injuries, read one note. Maybe Krystal had done it the night before or earlier that day by shaking Kyran. He didn't want to take the rap for the parents, whom he considered "fake" and "deceitful."

That interview didn't help Ramirez's credibility, but Tuggle's notes on her encounter with Voss were even more damaging to the defense. The caseworker had met with her at Children's Hospital minutes after Voss had written her statement for Alejo. The ostensible purpose of the meeting was so Tuggle could explain that the county was seeking a temporary custody order for Kyran, as is common in abuse investigations. But within a few minutes, Voss was confessing again.

"Krystal stated that she was really afraid that she had hurt her child," Tuggle testified. "He was whiny and upset Thursday night late. She had shaken him really hard, then slammed him down on the bed and rubbed his stomach vigorously. She was afraid she caused bruises and left marks. She was also crying and saying she had no patience with her child."

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