Editorial: Amariana's killer is still out there

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2011 - 3:17 pm

With a drug-addicted mother and an ex-con for a father, Amariana Crenshaw had a troubled life from the beginning. She was only 2 when Sacramento County Child Protective Services removed her from her mother and placed her in Tracy Dossman's foster home.

In January 2008, 2 1/2 years later, she would die, burned from head to toe.

Someone threw at least one Molotov cocktail into a rental home Dossman owned. Amariana, 4 1/2 years old, was alone, sleeping on the floor in the front of the empty house. She was allegedly hit by the device, which exploded. No one has ever been charged with the killing.

Sacramento city police say they've devoted "thousands of man-hours" in a "very thorough, very comprehensive" investigation. But how thorough was it, really?

Early on, foster parent Dossman was eliminated as a possible suspect. Why?

Evidence collected by The Bee's Marjie Lundstrom suggests Amariana may have been dead before her body was burned. The chief forensic pathologist for Sacramento County who performed the autopsy said, "I cannot completely rule out that the decedent was not breathing when the firebombs exploded."

Other pathologists who examined the report were more emphatic. "The child was dead before the fire," one told The Bee. "The autopsy was not bad, but the conclusions are quite incorrect. There is no question in my mind that this child was already dead," another said.

Several curious facts in the autopsy report raise suspicions about when and how Amariana died.

For one thing, she had a full stomach at the time of her death, about 3 a.m., meaning she would have eaten a large meal one to two hours earlier or around 1 in the morning, an odd meal time for a young child. Did police ask Dossman about that?

Also, the autopsy report says there was no soot in Amariana's airways and no carbon monoxide in her blood. That indicates, experts told The Bee, that she was not breathing when the Molotov cocktail that was supposed to have killed her ignited.

Why was she sleeping alone on the floor of her foster parent's empty rental house in the first place? Then there is the long history of injuries Amariana suffered while in Dossman's home, a series of split, swollen and cut lips, a bruised eye, a leg injury that left the girl limping, all documented in the CPS file.

Finally, the general condition of Dossman's household raises questions about its suitability. At the time of Amariana's death, Dossman had two of her own children, ages 9 and 19, an 18-year-old nephew and six foster children, ages 4, 8, 15, 15, 16 and 17. State licensing records show that Dossman would leave the older foster children to care for the younger ones. A CPS adoptions supervisor said the home was in "chaos," but no one removed the children. Why not?

Today, two years after Amariana's death, Dossman is still a certified foster parent, with five children under her charge. The homicide investigation appears to have stalled. Amariana deserves better. Given the information disclosed in The Bee's special report, Sacramento police should restart this investigation and not give up until whoever killed Amariana Crenshaw is behind bars.

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