On January 31, 2003, 28-year-old Krystal Voss brought her 17-month-old son, Kyran, with no vital signs, to the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, Colorado. She was accompanied by Patrick Ramirez, who had been babysitting Kyran while Voss was at work. As emergency personnel began attending to the child, Dr. Elizabeth Kinney noticed bruises on the boy’s abdomen. When the account Ramirez gave of the child falling while he was babysitting did not explain these bruises, Kinney notified both the County Department of Social Services and law enforcement.
By the time County Sheriff’s Sgt. Harry Alejo arrived, Ramirez had already left to return to Denver, where he lived. Voss told Alejo that Kyran had fallen off Ramirez’s shoulders. Voss then boarded a flight with Kyran and medical personnel to transfer the child to Children’s Hospital in Denver.
Alejo requested Ramirez to return to Alamosa where he questioned him. According to this recorded statement, Kyran had fallen backward off Ramirez's shoulders and hit his head. Ramirez said that he too had lost his balance and fallen backward, striking Kyran’s side or abdomen. Ramirez said the boy cried for a bit and then had trouble standing. He said he put the boy into a bath and that Kyran slipped out of his hands a couple of times. He then shook Kyran to try to revive him, but when the boy did not respond, he called Voss and they took him to the hospital.
Meanwhile at Children’s Hospital in Denver, Dr. Kathryn Wells, the head of the Family Crisis Center, was called in because of the concern of abuse. She interviewed Voss, who said that Kyran had not slept well the night prior to the accident, but ultimately had fallen sleep after midnight and slept later than usual. She said that Kyran was already down for a nap when Ramirez arrived. Voss said she had not seen any bruises on Kyran before the accident.
Wells suggested to Voss that her story didn’t account for all of Kyran’s injuries, and the medical team concluded that Kyran had a subdural hematoma and that his injuries were the result of violent shaking—-in other words, that he was a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a term coined to describe a condition first articulated in 1971 having a telltale “triad” of symptoms: brain swelling, brain hemorrhaging, and retinal hemorrhaging. In an infant who has no outward signs of abuse, this triad of symptoms indicates that the child has been violently shaken. According to prevailing medical wisdom at the time of the incident, no other injuries or pathologies could cause these three symptoms concurrently. Moreover, it was thought that a victim of SBS became unresponsive immediately, and therefore the last person to have physical care of the baby must have caused the injuries.
On Sunday, February 2, 2003, Sgt. Alejo once more interviewed Ramirez, who again said the boy had fallen off his shoulders and that he had fallen on top of him. Ramirez also admitted that he drank beer and smoked marijuana that morning. He said that he had been in a sexual relationship with Voss but that this was waning. However, on the day of the incident, he and Voss had planned to spend the weekend in Denver while Damien cared for Kyran.
At the end of the interview, Alejo arrested Ramirez for child abuse causing serious bodily injury and reckless endangerment. Alejo would later say that he did not believe Ramirez’s story of what happened and thought that Ramirez was covering for Voss.
On Tuesday, February 4, 2003, Sgt. Alejo interviewed Damien and Voss at Children’s Hospital. According to Alejo, during this unrecorded interview, Voss told him that the day before the incident, Kyran, had been up almost all night with stomach problems, and that she had grabbed the boy, shaken him violently two or three times and swiftly laid him on the bed, then rubbed his abdomen and sang to him. Alejo said he believed that Voss had confessed, so, at his request, she wrote a statement. Voss later confirmed this account to a child social worker, Marcia Tuggle, with whom she met to discuss putting Kyran into the state’s custody.
That same day, Ramirez, who was in the Alamosa County Jail, got a phone call from his wife, who said that Kyran might not recover.
One day later, on February 5, 2003, Alejo interviewed Ramirez again and this time, he told a different story. Ramirez said that when he arrived at Voss’s home, she told him that she had had a difficult night and was up very late with Kyran, who had a stomachache. According to Ramirez, Voss said that “she got upset and had it not been for Damien, she would have killed him.” Ramirez added that she said she had shaken the toddler.
Ramirez said the story about Kyran falling off his shoulders was false and had been concocted by Voss. He said Voss told him to tell the story so she would not lose custody of the boy. Ramirez said he had initially lied because he was in love with Voss and that he changed his account after learning that Kyran’s condition had worsened.
Later that day, Voss was charged with felony child abuse causing serious bodily injury. She was arrested on February 6, 2003, at Children’s Hospital.
On March 24, 2003, Kyran died. Dr. Robert Bux performed an autopsy and concluded that the boy died from complications of a closed head injury when he was struck by a blunt object or hurled against a blunt object.
On April 14, 2003, Voss was charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death.
Voss went to trial in the fall of 2004 in Alamosa County District Court. The prosecution’s theory was that Voss shook Kyran and slammed him into the mattress the night before he was hospitalized, causing his injuries and ultimately, his death.
Dr. Wells testified that Kyran had the triad of symptoms typical of SBS. She cited numerous bruises on his neck and abdomen, and near his groin that were “very concerning for child abuse because kids don’t normally bruise there.”
Wells said the bruises appeared to be in different stages of healing, indicating that some were older. In addition, she said Kyran had extensive brain injuries, eye injuries, and a fracture of his right tibia.
She concluded that a fall could not have caused the “constellation of injuries.” Rather, she said, his head injuries were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. In addition, the tibia fracture—known as a “bucket” fracture—was the result of being yanked with great force and could only be the result of abuse.
Ramirez had pled guilty to child endangerment and tampering with evidence, and was sentenced to one year in prison. He testified that his final statement—that he was covering for Voss—was the truth.
The defense did not challenge Wells’s diagnosis of SBS, but instead attempted to show, through cross-examination, that the timing of the toddler’s injuries was consistent with them having occurred when the boy was in Ramirez’s care and not the night before.
Voss testified that her sexual relationship with Ramirez had ended prior to the date of the incident. She said Kyran was fine and had no bruises when she left for work at about 1 p.m. She said Ramirez called an hour later, saying something was wrong with Kyran and she should come home. She said they left immediately for the hospital. On the way, Ramirez said he had been walking with Kyran, stumbled and fell, and possibly landed on the boy.
She said he apologized repeatedly. Voss also testified that the following day, February 1, 2003, she told Ramirez that Kyran’s injuries appeared to be the result of SBS. Ramirez said he probably had hurt Kyran—that he shook him and then attempted CPR to try to revive him.
Voss said her interview with Sgt. Alejo, during which she wrote out the statement, were “a very, very horrible, horrible 90 minutes of my life.” She said she was exhausted, feared Kyran was going to be taken away from her, and was “not capable of logical thought.” She told the jury she wrote down what Sgt. Alejo told her to write. Voss also said she never asked Ramirez to lie about a fall to cover for her.
On November 9, 2004, the jury convicted Voss alone of the charge of child abuse resulting in death. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In 2007, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld her conviction and the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal.
In July 2008, Voss, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. Seven months later, attorney Jeffrey Walsh was appointed to represent her.
In 2014, Walsh filed a supplemental motion for new trial, citing medical advances that had shown that the same triad of symptoms said to be SBS could be caused by a fall. The motion also presented medical evidence that even if Voss had done what her statement indicated, those acts were not sufficient to cause the injuries Kyran sustained.
Alamosa County District Judge Pattie Swift held a series of hearings in late 2016 and early 2017. The defense presented several experts who contradicted the prosecution’s evidence at trial, showing that as opposed to the most consistent explanation being shaking and slamming, “the most consistent mechanism would be a fall”
In August 2017, Judge Swift granted the petition to vacate Voss’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge concluded that Voss’s trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to adequately investigate medical defenses.
“They made this mistake because they did not retain a general, consulting medical expert but instead relied on their own understanding of shaken baby syndrome theory and failed to question Dr. Wells’s testimony,” Judge Swift ruled.
On September 8, 2017, District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen dismissed the charge.