CHEYENNE — A jury on Monday found a Cheyenne day care worker guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Kristina Eileen Croy was charged in Laramie County District Court following the September 2019 death of an 8-month-old girl who was in her care at the time.
Croy pleaded not guilty to the charge in July 2020. Croy was accused of placing the infant in a too-small swaddling device against her mother’s wishes and against state guidelines. She was also accused of directing an employee of her day care to lie to police following the incident and of changing her story about the incident.
The infant, who was referred to during the trial and in court documents as “M.G.,” was identified by family members as Malia Gavagan.
Involuntary manslaughter, a felony, carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.
The jury came back with the guilty verdict around 4:30 p.m. Monday, following about five hours of deliberation. The trial began March 28, and closing arguments took place Monday morning.
Marcia Bean, the county and prosecuting attorney for Big Horn County, was appointed to prosecute the case.
The victim’s grandmother, Eileen Gavagan, worked for former Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar and maintains a connection with current Laramie County DA Leigh Anne Manlove, who worked as a prosecutor in Homar’s administration.
Bean said Tuesday that the trial, which she said was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and filings by the defendant, was a long time coming. The prosecutor said she was “very happy” that the case was close to a resolution.
“I’m glad for the Gavagans, and I believe that it was an appropriate verdict. The jury worked hard, and so I’m satisfied with how it all came out,” Bean said in an interview.
Eileen Gavagan told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Tuesday that “it was very difficult to remain quiet and emotionless” during the roughly five-day trial.
But as the jury’s guilty verdict was read, “finally we could breathe,” she said.
“The family members and those that loved Malia Gavagan are so grateful for the hard work of the prosecution team,” Eileen Gavagan wrote in an email. “We appreciated the jury’s attentiveness in the trial despite the very difficult circumstances and the emotions that arise when hearing about a child’s death, and seeing videos and photos of a deceased child.
“We are grateful that we had this precious child for 8 months (and) 21 days, and we will forever miss her,” she continued. “We hope for healing and peace and look forward to the sentencing hearing.”
Croy’s attorney, Dion Custis, gave a short statement to the WTE on Tuesday.
“It was an incredibly sad case – a very tough case for anyone to consider, including the jury,” he said.
In his opening argument in the trial, Custis called Malia’s death a “tragic accident,” and said Croy had not done anything criminal. Custis said Croy likely wouldn’t have taken the child into her care if she’d known about Malia’s “health issues,” which he said included being born premature and her mother’s use of marijuana while she was pregnant.
Croy’s attorney said the child was taking medication for acid reflux, but that Croy did not know this. He also referred to Malia as having “breathing issues” and “chronic lung disease.”
Custis said there was documentation that the child could not roll over on her own, meaning it would not have been unsafe to place her in a swaddling device, he said.
Regarding the accusation that Croy had changed her version of events, Custis said the day care worker had been “in a frantic state of mind” following the incident.
In Bean’s opening argument, she said Malia’s mother, Julianne Gavagan, stopped using marijuana when she found out she was pregnant.
Bean characterized the infant as “active” and “healthy” immediately before her death.
Croy remains out of custody pending sentencing.
Eileen and Julianne Gavagan also filed a wrongful death lawsuit in May 2021 in Laramie County District Court. The suit, which names Croy and her day care as defendants, has a scheduling conference set for May 9.
The criminal charge stemmed from a Sept. 25, 2019, incident.
The Cheyenne Police Department responded to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center that afternoon, following the report of a deceased infant, according to a probable cause affidavit written by CPD Detective Allison Baca.
Malia Gavagan had been in Croy’s care. Croy operated the day care “It’s a Child’s World They Matter,” which was licensed by the Wyoming Department of Family Services, the affidavit said.
Croy told law enforcement that she’d found Malia at about 1:20 p.m. that day face down on the living room floor. The child was not breathing and had no heartbeat.
Croy said she yelled for her then-18-year-old daughter to call 911.
Croy said that, at about 12:30 p.m., she’d put Malia in a “little sleeper,” which is described in the affidavit as a swaddling device that zips up to the neck with Velcro flaps, restraining a child’s arms. Croy told police she had to use the “swaddler” for prevention of sudden infant death syndrome.
The Mayo Clinic describes SIDS as “the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.”
Croy said Malia’s mother knew she used the swaddling device, a version of events the parent contradicted.
After putting Malia in the device, Croy put the child on the floor on her back. She described looking over “a couple times” and seeing the infant had “dozed off.”
In at least one instance, Malia had rolled over, which Croy said she didn’t like, so she rolled the child onto her back. When she checked on the child again, Croy said Malia was lying face down and not breathing.
She said another day care employee stayed with the other children – 11 additional small children and infants – as her daughter called 911 and Croy began CPR. At this time, Croy said she heard Malia gurgling and noticed her lips were turning purple.
Croy said that, at the time of the incident, she was in the kitchen cleaning and doing paperwork, moving between the rooms.
Both Croy’s daughter and the second day care employee later contradicted Croy’s account in interviews with law enforcement, according to the affidavit. They said the second day care employee had been at lunch during the incident.
Croy’s daughter said a neighbor had come over to help watch the children while waiting for the employee to return.
The day care employee “immediately reported (in the police interview) that Croy had asked her to lie and say she was there at the time of the incident,” the affidavit said.
Croy contacted a Department of Family Services employee after the incident and asked her to come to the hospital. Croy initially gave the DFS worker similar information to what she provided to law enforcement, though she did not tell the DFS worker she’d found Malia face down, as she’d apparently told law enforcement.
Croy added that, although her home day care had cameras, she did not know if they’d been recording. Croy said she’d noticed the night before that the camera in the living room, where Malia had been at the time of the incident, was pointed toward the ceiling.
In an interview with the DFS worker about a month later, Croy changed her story, according to the affidavit.
She told the DFS worker that Malia could not roll over independently, and when she checked on Malia at one point, the infant’s head was “turned,” and she was not breathing.
Malia’s mother, Julianne Gavagan, told police the infant had no health problems and was not sick on the day she died.
Julianne added that Malia could sit up and “frequently rolled from her back to her stomach,” and had “on occasion” rolled from her stomach to her back, but that it was difficult for her, the affidavit said.
The swaddling device Malia was wearing the day she died had a sewn-in tag indicating it was for babies three to six months old and between 13-18 pounds. It measured 22.5 inches long. Also on the tag were the words: “STOP swaddling when your baby shows signs of rolling over or breaking out of the swaddle.”
At the time of her autopsy, the 8-month-old weighed 19 pounds and was 25 inches long.
An autopsy report concluded Malia died of positional asphyxia, meaning the infant’s position had prevented her from breathing properly.
The DFS worker provided Detective Baca with documentation that showed Croy had been trained in “safe sleep practices,” including that babies should not be swaddled “without a written statement and instructions from physician.”
Wyoming Child Care Licensing Rules say: “Sleeping infants shall not be swaddled without a licensed healthcare professional statement, including instructions and a time frame for swaddling an infant, on file. Swaddling is prohibited for infants that have the ability to roll over independently.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!