Shades of Guilt

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

With the aid of a laptop and a big screen, Marquez walked the jury through a ninety-minute review of testimony and exhibits, focusing on the many dubious statements of Patrick Ramirez. Among the lies were some incontrovertible truths, Marquez argued, including the detailed description of Kyran's declining condition.

"How could someone who did not see these things happen give you these symptoms of a serious, abusive head injury?" he asked. "This is textbook. Patrick saw this happen, and he doesn't want to accept it."

Even the state's own expert witness, Dr. Wells, had provided the defense with some ammunition. She'd said that many of the symptoms would have been immediate, not hours in the making, yet there was evidence that Kyran was behaving normally that morning. Wells had also agreed that perpetrators of child abuse often minimize their actions; often attribute the injury to a short fall; blame someone else; and change stories to fit the information they're getting about the injuries.

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.

As for Voss's statement, Marquez insisted that a mother's stricken conscience didn't amount to literal guilt. "Did she feel responsible for Kyran's injuries? Absolutely," he said. "As parents, aren't we responsible for everything that happens to our children?

"This is a case about tragedies," he continued. "The first is Kyran, who will never be the man he was supposed to be. Kyran's family will never see him grow up. Patrick Ramirez will not be punished for what he did. There's one more tragedy out there. Only you can prevent that from happening."

There was only one kind of guilt at issue, prosecutor Gonzales responded. Voss said she shook and slammed her child because that's what she did. "No parent is going to make up a story that they violently shook their child unless that parent has guilt for what they've done," he said.

Since there seemed to be some doubts about the injuries caused by the nighttime shaking, Gonzales proposed a second shaking the next morning. The scenario: Voss was packing, getting ready for her trip to Denver with Ramirez, her kid was fussy, whining...

Marquez objected. Judge Kuenhold overruled him.

Gonzales plunged ahead. "You're packing. You lose your cool. One moment in time. You shake that child. No more crying."

Marquez objected again. Kuenhold nodded sympathetically.

"There is no evidence of a shaking the next morning," the judge said. "The jury knows that."

His theory of the case in ruins, trashed by the judge himself, Gonzales kept his cool. Okay, there was no evidence. "But you can make reasonable inferences," he told the jury.

He held up an oversized photo of a smiling toddler that Alejo had seized from the Voss home. "This is Kyran before his injuries," Gonzales said.

More photos, blow-ups of pictures taken of the boy at Children's Hospital. "This is what he looked like after his mother shook him and slammed him on the bed."

And with those images thrust in their faces, the jury got the case.

On Tuesday, November 9, Voss was feeling confident enough to visit the Alamosa public library and fire off an e-mail to her supporters.

"The jury went into deliberations at 9 am this morning," she wrote. "The judge let us go eat and we have the cell phone on waiting for a verdict. My attorneys believe that this case has gone better than they could have ever hoped it to. It is currently 1 pm as I write this, and I am giving thanks for being able to go home tonight, sleep in our own bed, and cuddle with our kitten."

Her thanks were misplaced. Ninety minutes later Voss was back in court. The jury brought in its verdict: guilty of knowing and reckless child abuse resulting in death, a Class 2 felony that carries a sentence of up to 48 years in prison.

Voss broke down as the deputies led her away.

Judge Kuenhold scheduled her sentencing for January 4.

There were things the jurors didn't know. There always are.

They didn't know about Ramirez's criminal record. They also didn't know about Ramirez's claim that Voss had told him, months before Kyran got hurt, that she'd shaken the child before. Both items were considered too prejudicial, and they knocked out other testimony as well; the defense decided not to put on any character witnesses to support Voss's claim of being a good mother, for fear the prosecution would be allowed to bring Ramirez back to rebut them.

They didn't hear from Damien's father, Steve Gaston, who was prepared to testify that he'd called Voss at 10:30 that morning and heard Kyran laughing and playing in the background. If that was true, the head injury must have occurred later. But the elder Gaston had had some shrill conversations with Alejo about the investigator's "persecution" of Voss and may have been considered too volatile to put on the stand. Moments after the verdict was announced, he confronted Alejo in the courtroom. "I guarantee you will go to hell for what you have done," he said.

They didn't hear about the feces-flecked bathtub and the dirty diaper on the floor. Damien Gaston had found both at his home after Alejo had collected all the evidence that interested him. In four different interviews, Ramirez had told Alejo, Tuggle and a victims' advocate that he'd changed a whiny Kyran's diaper before his "fall." But that event was omitted in the final version, in which he said he'd found Kyran already unconscious.

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