Jasmine arrived wrapped in a soft blue-and-pink baby blanket. Helen Martin gingerly unbundled the dark-haired infant and dressed her in a frilly white baptismal gown. The baby's mother and grandmother didn't know what kind of bonnet to get, so they'd bought both sheer and solid white. It was up to Helen to determine which would hide the bruised indentation on the left side of Jasmine's head. Figuring she could conceal the injury by tilting the baby's head to the left, Helen chose the sheer bonnet and then laid Jasmine in a tiny white casket.
Preparing the dead had never really bothered the twenty-year Olinger Mortuary employee. But Jasmine was different. "I can't say I didn't stand there and cry," Helen says. "It was heartrending for me. I've raised four children, and I have seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. This baby was such a beautiful little girl. She was a chubby little baby -- a good little chunk, as I call 'em."
Hers wasn't the only heart broken by Jasmine's death. During a time of tragedy came an outpouring of tenderness and generosity from total strangers. The undertaker who embalmed Jasmine held her for hours, crying, until a colleague urged him to let the baby go. A friend of the mother's family, who had just started working for Olinger and had never met Jasmine, was so moved that she convinced her bosses to donate the funeral services and is starting a nonprofit in Jasmine's name (see "Suffer the Children,"). The owner of a church-supply store provided jewelry for Jasmine's burial. A former Olinger saleswoman donated an angel statue to mark Jasmine's grave until a permanent headstone could be erected. The motorcycle escorts for the funeral procession returned their paychecks to Olinger after learning what had happened.
It was just so hard for them all to grasp that a father could do this to his own child.
Nathanael Justin McIntosh met Caleena Burch at LoDo's Bar & Grill early in December 2001. She had gotten into the bar with a fake ID and was instantly attracted to the tall, dark, handsome man six years her senior. She gave him her phone number when he asked, but she didn't expect him to call. When he did, a week later, she invited him over to watch movies.
Caleena immediately felt comfortable around Justin. He was easy to be with, she says, not to mention smart and charming. Soon the two were inseparable, and although Justin lived in Denver and Caleena was in Fort Collins, they made the 150-mile round trip every day to see each other. They quickly discovered that they came from very different worlds.
Justin graduated from Denver's East High School in 1994 and earned a bachelor's degree from Denison University, a small liberal arts school in Granville, Ohio, which bills itself as a quiet New England-style village. Caleena dropped out of Loveland's Thompson Valley High School in 1999, but later got her General Equivalency Diploma. He has two sisters from the same parents; she comes from a large combined family and has a child of her own from a previous relationship.
Justin's parents both work in the child-welfare system. His mother, Janice, is a program manager in charge of child protection for the Denver Department of Human Services; his father, Lonnie, is a correctional officer at Gilliam Youth Services Center. Caleena's father, Howard Ruggles, is a supervisor for a concrete company in Loveland; her mother, Barbara, is a stay-at-home mom. Justin's upbringing was stable; Caleena ran away from home as a teenager and lived with different friends and relatives before ending up in foster care. He had never been in trouble with the law; she'd racked up an extensive criminal record that includes motor vehicle theft, drug possession, false reporting and failure to appear in court. "I'd been to jail," Caleena says. "He'd been to Greece."
Those differences didn't matter to the couple until Caleena got pregnant with Justin's child. On January 15, 2002 -- just six days after Justin turned 26 -- she called him with the news. He was surprised but didn't seem upset, Caleena says. He did, however, ask about an abortion, but Caleena rejected the idea. So in the cool, calm way in which he approached most things, Justin suggested they move in together since he was already planning to move out of his parents' modest Tudor-style house in Park Hill and buy a place of his own. "I thought he was taking it pretty well, being that I only knew him a month," Caleena says.
But two weeks later he mentioned abortion again. He said he wanted to do things he couldn't do if he had a baby, such as attend graduate school in Europe. And even though Caleena kept telling him she felt abortion was wrong, he persisted until she broke down and told him to make an appointment. But when they got to the downtown Denver Planned Parenthood clinic, she started sobbing. "I was hysterical, and the doctors wouldn't do it," she says.
They left, and Justin didn't bring up abortion again. He was sweet and attentive toward her after that, Caleena says, and things seemed fine between them until she called him at work a few months later. They were chatting when he casually announced that he didn't think they should live together. "I just lost it," Caleena says. "It was our first big fight."
Justin hadn't found a place for them to live, but in anticipation of their move, Caleena had broken the lease on her apartment and was staying in a hotel with her daughter, Alyssa, who was just over a year old. She wasn't about to be homeless while carrying one child and caring for another. "I told him that if we needed to have separate rooms, fine. I'd have the baby, recuperate and then move out."
It took another couple of months for Justin to find a place and secure a loan, but by June 1 he was ready to move into a new condo development in Aurora -- and share a bed with Caleena. She says Justin didn't tell his family she was pregnant until right before they moved in together -- and then they questioned whether he was even the father. "That was their big thing; they were going to wait and see if it was really his," Caleena says.
The day after they moved in together, Justin lost his job at a financial-software development company, so Caleena became a nanny to pay the bills -- except the mortgage, which Justin's parents agreed to cover. "I didn't mind; I was content," says Caleena, who wanted her new child to have a dad since Alyssa's father isn't very involved.
On August 21, 2002, Caleena started having contractions while visiting her mother in Loveland. She immediately went to the hospital, where she remained in labor for the next 36 hours. Justin came to visit but left when he got tired of waiting around. Barbara had to call him at home when her daughter's water broke. Justin came back but slept in the waiting room until just before the big moment, when Caleena's half-sister, Pam Martinez, woke him up so he could videotape the birth of five-pound, five-ounce Jasmine Danae. She looked just like him. Janice and Lonnie McIntosh didn't go to the hospital. And Caleena claims she and Jasmine weren't invited to family functions, including Justin's younger sister's high school graduation and his older sister's wedding. "He always said he had an image to maintain," Caleena says.
But when it came to caring for Jasmine, Justin took an active role, regularly feeding her and changing her diapers. And he'd always been good with Alyssa, even though Caleena says she sometimes had to tell him how to properly scold a small child. "There were times he'd yell at her like she was a five-year-old, and I had to explain that she couldn't understand the words he was saying." Although he got impatient and frustrated at times, like all adults do around young kids, Caleena says Justin never showed any signs of violence. He'd never raised a hand to her, nor was she aware of him touching the girls. Not until November 27, 2002.
Caleena had been at a friend's house the night before and didn't want to risk driving after she'd been drinking, so she called Justin and told him she was going to stay put. He was livid, but when Caleena got home the next morning, Jasmine was asleep and everything seemed peaceful. A few minutes later, Jasmine woke up crying, and Caleena went to get her. What she saw when she bent over the bassinet to pick up the baby shocked her: There was a handprint on Jasmine's left cheek, and her skin was red. She asked Justin what the hell had happened and recalls him saying he didn't know, that he had just snapped. He started crying, doubled over the kitchen sink.
At that moment, Caleena knew things would never be the same between them. Still, she thought it was an isolated incident, a moment of rage inspired by her absence the night before. Her desire to go out with friends once a week was a sore point in their relationship. "I told him he could have a night out once a week, or even two nights, but he didn't want that. Whenever I'd leave for my night out, I could tell he was mad," she says.
Caleena stayed home all day to make sure Justin held Jasmine. "I wanted him to reestablish a bond with her, and he didn't resist. He seemed guilt-stricken," she says. For a few hours, things were calm. But the more Caleena thought about what happened, the more she found it hard to contain her anger. She began yelling at him, and the arguing frightened Alyssa, who started crying. To get Alyssa away from the tension in the condo, Caleena took her to spend the night at her paternal grandparents' Denver home. The next morning, Caleena came back home to get Jasmine and take her to Alyssa's grandparents' for Thanksgiving dinner. Justin refused to let her go, not wanting the family to see the red marks on his child's face. Throughout the day, Caleena shuttled between the condo and Alyssa's grandparents' house, leaving Jasmine in Justin's care.
That night, Caleena went out with some friends and got "belligerently drunk." She had told one of her sisters about the slapping incident earlier in the day but didn't know what else to do. Would she leave Justin or try to work things out? After drowning her tears and fears in alcohol, she crashed on a friend's couch. When she woke up, she knew she had to face Justin. She tried to call his cell phone; when he didn't answer, Caleena knew something was wrong. She sped home while redialing his number. This time someone answered -- but it wasn't Justin. It was an Aurora police officer telling her to come home right away. "My initial thought was that he'd done something to himself," Caleena remembers.
When she arrived, four cops were in her living room, and Justin was sitting on the couch looking terrified. "Mr. McIntosh stated he was the owner of the property and the father of Jasmine," reads the Aurora Police Department's arrest affidavit. "Mr. McIntosh gave permission for officers and crime-scene investigator Gary Hilton to search his apartment. Mr. McIntosh signed a consent form."
One of the officers told Caleena that Justin called 911 earlier that morning to say that Jasmine had stopped breathing. Paramedics had already taken Jasmine to the south campus of the Medical Center of Aurora before Caleena got there. She took one of the cops outside and told him how Justin had slapped Jasmine the day before. And then, just before she left for the hospital, Justin called out to her. "I love you," he said. She could count on one hand the number of times he'd told her that in eleven months.
Caleena didn't have time to process what was going on. She could think of just one thing: finding her little girl. By the time Caleena got to the medical center, Jasmine had already been transferred to Children's Hospital, a facility better equipped to handle a baby in critical condition. Panicked and alone, Caleena drove to Alyssa's grandparents' house and had her ex-boyfriend take her to Children's, where Jasmine was in a coma in the intensive care unit, her tiny body hooked to a cluster of tubes and wires. Looking into her daughter's big brown eyes, Caleena knew it was bad. There was nothing behind that glassy stare.
The doctors said Jasmine had Shaken Baby Syndrome, the number one cause of death among infants in this country. Babies' necks are weak, so when they're shaken, their heads flop back and forth, causing their fragile blood vessels to tear away from the brain, which can then bang against the skull. "When a child is shaken in anger and frustration for five to twenty seconds, the force is multiplied five to ten times what it would be if the child had simply fallen," according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which estimates that 7,500 to 15,000 children nationally die of SBS each year. There is no agency in Colorado that tracks the number of such cases in this state, however. "This type of whiplash movement can result in irreparable brain damage leading to mental retardation, speech and learning disabilities, seizures, paralysis, hearing loss and bleeding around the brain. The syndrome also causes blindness."
But Jasmine hadn't just been shaken. The doctors had found other injuries as well. Caleena's sister Pam says the doctors wouldn't elaborate other than to say Jasmine had been hurt so badly that even if she could breathe on her own again, she'd be brain-dead. Caleena was faced with a decision no parent should have to make: whether to leave her baby on life support. Doctors warned that even with assistance, Jasmine probably wouldn't survive the night.
Several of Caleena's friends and relatives came to the hospital, including Derrick RedEarth, a childhood friend of Pam's. "He called me from the hospital and said, ŒIt's not good, Mom," recalls Patrice Kenner RedEarth. "He said, ŒShe's not even as long as my forearm.'"
Justin's mother and one of his sisters had come to the hospital that day, too, but "as soon as we heard how seriously she'd been hurt, they disappeared, and we never heard from them again," Barbara Ruggles says.
Janice McIntosh, whose job it is to protect children from this very thing, had to deal with a nightmare of her own. The police were planning to charge her son with first-degree murder. (Reached at her office, Janice politely declined to comment and explained that neither Justin nor any other family members would speak with Westword, either.)
After he was read his rights at the police station, Justin agreed to give a statement, which was videotaped. "Mr. McIntosh admitted to shaking his daughter until she stopped breathing," the arrest affidavit reads. And according to a court motion filed later by Arapahoe County Deputy District Attorney Karen Pearson, Justin admitted to "slapping Jasmine McIntosh on the face during the early morning hours of November 27, 2002, and leaving marks on her. His admission is contained on the videotaped interview done with police and is corroborated by his statements to Caleena Burch, Jasmine's mother."
Caleena was well aware of Shaken Baby Syndrome, which was first identified in 1974, but never thought her own child would suffer from it -- or that her baby's father would be the perpetrator. But a 1999 study cited in the journal Clinical Excellence for Nurse Practitioners found that of 151 shaken-baby cases reviewed in Colorado, 37 percent of the abusers were biological fathers and 20.5 percent were the mothers' boyfriends.
With her baby's father in custody, Caleena struggled alone with a life-or-death decision. She resolved to see what the next day would bring. Despite the doctors' predictions, Jasmine made it through the night, though her prognosis hadn't changed. Caleena decided to let her go. And so at 10:58 a.m. on Saturday, November 30, it was official: Jasmine was dead "as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of Nathanael McIntosh," the police affidavit declared.
After Jasmine died, the Kempe Children's Center conducted a routine exam of Alyssa to make sure she hadn't been abused. They found some bruises and an old burn mark that Caleena says happened when the toddler had accidentally touched a curling iron several months before. Although Caleena wasn't charged with neglect or abuse, social workers looked into her past and began to question her fitness as a mother. They asked that Alyssa stay with her Aunt Pam for a while.
The day after Jasmine died, Derrick RedEarth called his mom and told her he didn't know how Caleena's family would pay for the funeral. Caleena had asked Justin's mom about contributing but claims Janice refused to help, still unsure whether Jasmine was her son's child. (Caleena and Justin were saving for a paternity test, which can cost upwards of $200, when Jasmine died.)
Saddened by a young life cut so short, Patrice Kenner RedEarth made a silent promise to honor Jasmine. Her husband had succumbed to a long illness the year before, and she'd spent many months preparing for his death. On September 30, 2002, not long after what would have been their thirtieth wedding anniversary, she scattered his ashes at Mount Lindo, the hilltop cemetery in Morrison with a cross that is visible from Denver. The next day she took a job as a memorial counselor for Olinger. "I felt that there was a big need to let people know that death isn't final. My husband's scattering was the most peaceful process in my life, and I wanted to relate that to people," she says.
While Caleena and her mother searched for a burial gown and bonnet, Patrice set out to find a cross necklace. "I felt it was important that this little girl go out in style," says Patrice, who visited the northwest Denver church-supply store of her friend John Erger. When she told him what she was looking for and why, he gave her a chain with a tiny gold cross dangling from it, a gold baby ring adorned with a dove, and an alabaster angel to hang inside the casket -- all free of charge.
Patrice also talked to her bosses, who instantly agreed to donate all funeral services as well as a burial plot in Crown Hill Cemetery, at 29th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard. "These were highly unusual circumstances, and knowing what the family was going through, we thought it was the right thing to do," says Brad Olivanti, the manager of the Olinger-owned Moore Howard/Berkley Park.
Then-Olinger saleswoman Maria Wilson donated a trumpeting angel statue to serve as Jasmine's temporary marker. When Jasmine arrived at the funeral home on the morning of Wednesday, December 4, the employees took special care never to leave her unattended. Patrice even stayed overnight, sleeping in a chair beside the baby's casket. "I couldn't stand the thought of her being alone in there," she says.
Jasmine's funeral was held the next day in the Moore Howard/Berkley Park Chapel. Before the service began, loved ones could view the baby while paying their respects. But Caleena couldn't bear to look at her little angel lying there motionless and asked that the casket be closed for the service. Helen Martin bought a bouquet of small pink roses for the 45-minute service, which the Reverend Michael Lemke delivered at no cost. Justin was in jail, but his mom, a sister and his grandmother came, sitting in back behind the approximately seventy other people in attendance. They spoke to no one, and they didn't attend the cemetery service, where Patrice remained until the last pile of dirt covered the grave.
Jasmine's death certificate lists the primary cause of death as "complications of severe closed head injury consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome." But the coroner also found "multiple healing injuries consistent with Battered Child Syndrome."
Patrice Kenner RedEarth noticed the injuries, too. For one thing, there was the discolored indentation on the left side of her head. "It looked like blunt-force trauma to me, like someone had taken a closed fist to her head," says Patrice, who has more than twenty years of experience in child-abuse investigation. As a police officer in Fort Lupton and then Longmont, Patrice worked countless child-abuse cases, witnessed several autopsies, created juvenile diversion programs, received extensive training in the field, earned a criminal-justice degree from Aims Community College and became a state-certified instructor in criminal justice.
When Patrice saw Jasmine's bruised head at the funeral home, she wondered whether there were other injuries, so she ran her fingers along the baby's arms and legs. "There were bumps on her bones," she says.
Caleena says she never noticed any signs of abuse prior to the November slapping incident, though she had had to take a five-week-old Jasmine to the hospital for a bloody nose. Caleena had left Jasmine with Justin so she could take her younger sister to a birthday party, and when she got home, the baby had been crying. Justin explained that he'd tripped over a laundry basket while holding the baby and that she'd suffered a bloody nose in the fall. "He'd already cleaned up her nose, but there was a gurgling sound in the back of her throat," Caleena remembers. She and Justin took her to Children's Hospital, where doctors put a tube down her throat to clear the mucus and stomach acid that had built up. Janice McIntosh met them there. Caleena says it was the first time she'd seen her granddaughter.
After doctors examined Jasmine, they told the young parents that she had a torn esophagus, but they couldn't explain what caused it. Social workers on staff met with Caleena and Justin and couldn't figure out what happened, either, so they closed their inquiry. At the time, Caleena and her relatives thought the doctors might have caused the tear when they put the tube down her throat. Now they're not so sure.
When police officers later arrested Justin in connection with Jasmine's death, they recommended charging him with first-degree murder. But prosecutors felt they couldn't prove the necessary level of intent, even though the state legislature had passed a law in 1995 allowing first-degree murder charges to be filed without having to prove premeditation when an adult in a position of trust kills a child under the age of twelve. "We still felt there was insufficient evidence to support that charge," says DA spokesman Michael Knight. Instead, they charged Justin with child abuse resulting in death, a Class 2 felony that can bring four to 48 years in prison. (Caleena has never been charged in the incident.)
In early December, Justin appeared in Arapahoe County court in an orange jumpsuit. Also present were more than a dozen of his family members and friends, who tried to convince the judge to release Justin on a $50,000 bond. They provided the judge with letters attesting to his fine character. "He has a heart of gold that shines, whether you know him well or just met him. Throughout his entire childhood, he always had a calm, warm nature and never instigated fights," wrote Michelyn Lintz, a longtime neighbor and family friend who administers the pharmacology department at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and had just hired Justin to manage a database. "Justin has an almost naíve perspective of people and the world but is nonetheless very responsible.... His innocent view of the world comes from, in part, the fact that he comes from a very loving stable family and went to preschool with many of the best friends that he graduated with from high school."
Anthony Graves, a graduate student at the University of Denver, explained that it had been many months since he'd been in close contact with Justin but that the two had been good friends throughout high school and college. "The Justin McIntosh I grew up with is kind and compassionate," Graves wrote. "I have always regarded him as a sensitive, attentive listener and a loving friend."
And Margritte Lindsey, a woman who taught at a school Justin attended and watched him grow up with one of her sons, described the six-foot-six-inch-tall man as a "gentle giant" who was always the picture of calm. "He was tall, neat and clean, very handsome, a good listener, conservatively dressed, reserved, well spoken, with impeccable manners."
Despite the accolades, the judge set bail at twice the amount that Justin's attorney had requested. The McIntoshes put up the money immediately, and Justin was free to go home and live with his parents. He wasn't allowed to have contact with Caleena or with anyone under the age of eighteen.
Justin's preliminary hearing was scheduled for late last January, but he waived his right, and his attorney instead used the court appearance to ask the judge to lift the restriction banning him from having contact with kids. Justin's family wanted him to bond with his nephew, who had been born less than a month after Jasmine. "I feel very comfortable having my son around Justin and have witnessed very positive interactions between the two of them in the past," his sister Kara Ali wrote to the judge, who denied the request.
At that point, the case was bound over to district court for arraignment. But instead of entering a plea during the February 26 hearing, Justin's attorney requested a continuance, which was granted. At the next court date, May 5, the prosecuting attorneys said they needed additional time to review medical records, so the arraignment was pushed back to June 13. And when June 13 came, it was the defense's turn to ask for another continuance; Justin's attorney argued that extra time was needed for a forensics expert to determine whether Jasmine had had any pre-existing health conditions that may have contributed to her death. Finally, on July 14, Justin entered a plea of not guilty, and a jury trial was set for November 18. However, that date has since been pushed back to the first week of January.
Caleena and her family are frustrated by how long the case has dragged on and feel that the DA's office hasn't shared enough information with them. Until recently, the family had met with Deputy DA Pearson only once. Following some of the hearings, they had tried to squeeze in a few minutes of face time with Pearson, only to hear her say what a class-act attorney the McIntoshes hired. "She said the sky's the limit on what his family will spend to defend him," says Pam Martinez.
The family complained to the DA's office about the lack of involvement, and Pearson has since been more accommodating. But they still don't understand why there was insufficient evidence to charge Justin with first-degree murder -- or why he's been allowed to leave the state three times in recent months to accompany his mother on family-related trips, a fact that no one in the DA's office bothered to share with them.
Having a high-profile attorney certainly doesn't hurt. Justin's lawyer, Forrest Lewis, has represented some of Colorado's most notorious criminals, including Nathan Dunlap, who gunned down five Chuck E. Cheese's employees in 1993; Robert Harlan, who was convicted in 1995 of raping and murdering one woman and shooting a good Samaritan who tried to help; and Danny Martinez, one of the gang members who raped, tortured and murdered fourteen-year-old Brandy DuVall before dumping her body in Clear Creek Canyon. Lewis, who told Westword he can't talk about Justin's case until after the trial, also defended Stephen Martinez, another man charged with shaking a baby to death. Like Justin McIntosh, Stephen Martinez confessed to police, telling them he couldn't get his girlfriend's four-month-old baby to stop crying.
Martinez's case led to a Colorado Supreme Court decision allowing medical experts to explain the severity of injuries associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome. During Martinez's case, an expert compared the baby's injuries to what she would have suffered had she fallen from a tall building or been involved in a high-speed car crash. In December 2001, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the testimony was irrelevant and should have been excluded, overturning Martinez's January 2000 first-degree-murder conviction. But in July 2003, the state's highest court overruled the appellate court decision on testimony and reinstated Martinez's original conviction. The ruling was hailed as a victory by prosecuting attorneys, who had seen an eighteen-month hiatus in shaken-baby filings while the decision was pending.
Since then, several more shaken-baby and child-abuse cases have made headlines in Colorado. A hearing was held recently to determine what kind of testimony will be admissible when Joseph Dowler stands trial November 10 on first-degree-murder charges for allegedly shaking his eight-week-old son, Tanner, to death. Laura Trujillo was convicted in September of child abuse resulting in injury for failing to protect her two-year-old daughter from being beaten to death by her boyfriend. Samuel Renner was charged with child abuse resulting in death for allegedly shaking Davey Crespin, a seven-month-old he was babysitting. Demetrius White Sr. was recently charged with child abuse resulting in death for allegedly beating his three-month-old son, Demetrius Jr. And Rebekah Amaya is facing two counts of first-degree murder in the drowning deaths of her two children, five-month-old Gabriel and four-year-old Grace.
Caleena's supporters hope that in Justin's case, justice will be served. But Patrice worries that he'll plead to a lesser charge, something she's seen happen many times in her two decades of law enforcement. "He'll probably get his hands slapped, go to anger management, pay a fine and do probation," she says.
While DA spokesman Knight says a plea bargain is always a possibility, he "can't envision a scenario where he'd plead to something with no jail time."
Caleena says she can't concern herself with what happens to Justin. She needs to focus on herself right now.
Three days after Jasmine died, Caleena went back to the condo she and Justin had shared. She was planning to stay with a friend and needed to get her things, but she couldn't get in because Janice McIntosh had already changed the locks. She was eventually able to get her stuff before Justin's parents rented the apartment, but then they sold the car she'd been driving. It was in Justin's name, but Caleena had made $1,500 in car payments while he was unemployed. And because questions had been raised about her fitness as a mother after the Kempe Children's Center examined Alyssa, social workers placed the toddler with Caleena's mom. In a matter of days, Caleena had lost everything: her house, her car and her kids. And she was only twenty years old.
Soon she felt like she was losing her mind, too. She couldn't go to a grocery store without breaking down when she saw a baby, and she got fired from her waitressing job at the Greeley Country Club because of her emotional outbursts. "I must have looked like a crazy person crying," she says. Her mental state didn't make her a very good roommate, either, and she bounced from friend's house to friend's house. Half the time, her parents didn't even know where she was.
Just before her nineteenth birthday and before she met Justin, she had been trying to clean up her life. She was thinking about volunteering at a treatment center for youth offenders. But after Jasmine died, she found herself reverting to her old ways. Broke, Caleena forged Justin's name on a withdrawal slip and left a bank drive-through with $1,100 from his checking account. And later, when she was pulled over for speeding, she presented a driver's license that she'd borrowed from a friend (hers had been revoked because of prior traffic offenses). She paid the ticket, but after she and her friend got into a fight, the friend turned her in for impersonation.
"I kind of did a 180 after this happened," Caleena admits. "This has totally destroyed my life. I don't think I'll ever be the same again.
"To sleep next to someone for almost a year and not know they're even remotely capable of something like this..." she says, pausing. "I have a hard time giving anyone the benefit of the doubt anymore, and I'm constantly afraid that something bad is going to happen."
A few weeks ago, she went out in Denver for the first time in three months. A friend of hers wanted to go to LoDo's Bar & Grill, the place where she first met Justin. She was reluctant to go back, but finally agreed. Not two minutes after she entered the bar, she saw him. Caleena couldn't believe her eyes: Justin was talking to two women. "I walked up to him, grabbed his shirt and shouted, ŒDo you know who this guy is?' He made a beeline for the door. Everyone was shocked; I looked like a lunatic," Caleena says. She chased him for five blocks, spraying Mace in his direction, stopping only when she saw a police officer. Justin walked quickly away while saying, "I don't know who you are." It was the only time she'd seen Justin outside of court since his arrest.
In recent weeks, Caleena has managed to pull herself together. She's gotten a job selling satellite television and has moved into the basement of a Fort Collins house. Although she'd initially told detectives what happened, they wanted a formal statement from her, which she only recently gave them. She says she's prepared to testify at Justin's trial.
For now, though, all Caleena wants is to get Alyssa back and start over. But for at least another six months, she'll have to settle for five visits per week at her mother's house. She has half a year to prove to social services that she can hold a job, maintain appropriate housing, pass drug tests, attend substance-abuse and parenting classes and go to grief counseling. Caleena's not sure she'll be able to do it all -- especially since she has to rely on family and friends to drive her everywhere. "Having a job and raising a kid are enough for most people to handle," she says.
Eventually, she'd like to run a nonprofit to help troubled teens, but Caleena is realistic about her chances of doing that. "I can't really help other people when I'm not there myself," she says.
And she has a hard time bringing herself to visit Jasmine's grave. The northeast corner of Crown Hill Cemetery, known as "babyland," is dotted with the tiny headstones of infants, most of whom died in accidents or of illnesses. Brightly colored pinwheels planted at several of the graves spin in the autumn breeze. Right now, Jasmine's is marked by the trumpet-blowing angel, a small wind chime and a teddy bear.
Before the first anniversary of her death, Caleena's family plans to unveil a proper headstone, courtesy of Olinger. On it will be engraved only Jasmine's first and middle names, leaving no lasting reminder of the man who put her there.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.