Longform

Angel Eyes

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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."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon