Colorado Springs babysitter Wanda Crawford was 66 years old in 1994 when she was found guilty of shaking a nine-month-old infant so severely that the baby was left brain-damaged and permanently disabled. So abhorrent was the crime that, despite Crawford's age and the fact that it was her first felony conviction, El Paso County District Judge James Franklin handed down an eighteen-year prison sentence.
But Crawford hated prison, and her husband, 63-year-old James Darnell, didn't like living alone. By last December, after Crawford had been behind bars just over a year, the couple had had enough. So, according to state investigators, the two sexagenarians hatched a plot they figured would solve all their problems and get Crawford back home in time for Christmas.
All they had to do was hire someone to murder a mother and her three-year-old child.
The victims were to be Selina De La Rosa and her daughter, Stephanie, the same little girl whom Crawford had nearly killed more than two years earlier. According to court documents, a hired killer was to use "whatever methods necessary" to force Selina to write a confession saying that it was she, not Crawford, who had hurt the baby. Only then was Selina to be shot. Stephanie was to be killed, too--Darnell and Crawford allegedly wanted the slayings to appear to be a murder-suicide.
The plot was foiled when someone snitched and an undercover agent from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation played the part of a hired killer. Darnell and Crawford, whose attorneys have failed to return phone calls seeking comment, are now behind bars, awaiting trial on murder conspiracy charges.
Selina De La Rosa and her husband, Troy, still live in a tiny house near the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The wood-paneled wall above their living-room sofa is covered with large, framed pictures, most of them of Stephanie. The photos depict a dark-haired infant with a smile that splits her face. Only on close inspection can a visitor spot the vacant look in Stephanie's eyes.
But unlike the photographs, in which Stephanie looks like most other children her age, there is no mistaking the devastation wrought by the injury when seeing Stephanie in person.
Stephanie lays in a child-sized recliner that her parents bought for her at a discount store. Doctors' fears that she was deaf have proven unfounded and, with a jerky motion, Stephanie turns her head in the direction of voices. She smiles when she hears her mother. She laughs when her father kisses her on the nose. But she is a three-year-old infant, a newborn in almost every sense of the word.
Stephanie's cognitive abilities are that of a two-month-old, her physical abilities that of a five- or six-month-old. She cannot sit up; she cannot crawl. She is legally blind, though she can now make out shapes and shadows thanks to the thick eyeglasses she got a few weeks back.
Stephanie cannot reach for and hold a bottle or a toy, so on this day her parents have fastened a terrycloth bracelet-toy to her wrist. A stuffed dinosaur sits to the right of her, another toy to her left. At her feet is a hollow plastic ball containing a myriad of small objects that would intrigue most children nearing the age of four.
Stephanie, however, pays no attention to any of it.
Troy and Selina say they are unable to understand how someone could be so cruel as to try to harm their baby. But Wanda Crawford and her husband allegedly planned the killings with a coldness that shocked even seasoned investigators.
At a bond hearing for James Darnell, El Paso County prosecutor Dave Gilbert says, the CBI agent who'd posed as a hired killer testified that Darnell told him Stephanie would prove easy to kill. "He said," Gilbert relates, "that the little girl wouldn't be much of a problem because she couldn't run."
Troy and Selina De La Rosa, both 27, met in 1989 and married three years later. They knew right away that they wanted kids, disagreeing only about the number. Selina wanted "a bunch," Troy says. He wanted two. When Selina became pregnant, the couple spent hours sprucing up the nursery with a Sesame Street decor.
Selina planned to take two months off from work after the baby was born, but after that, she knew, family finances would require her to return to her job as a word processor for Karman Sciences Corporation in Colorado Springs. Her obstetrician advised her to begin looking for a suitable daycare provider as soon as possible.
Selina began her search at the public library when she was six months pregnant, pulling up a computer database that included the names of licensed daycare providers in the Colorado Springs area. She found approximately twenty providers who lived near her home, then made up a list of pertinent questions to ask the sitters. If she liked a person's answers, Selina says, she would pay a visit to the person's home.