CPS investigation: Imprisoned abusive mother says she has new evidence

He died in poverty and torment, a little boy buried in a new suit donated by a department store.

Adrian Conway's grave lies in the "Garden of Hope" at Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks, where a small orange Garfield doll sits on the simple marker: "Playing in God's garden."

A dozen years later, the 3-year-old child is still remembered by many in Sacramento and beyond. His 1996 death became a rallying cry in the community and a benchmark for Sacramento County's Child Protective Services, forced to change its policies after numerous warnings to the agency failed to protect him.

So what became of his mother?

Tammy Holycross, who pleaded guilty in 1998 to second-degree murder and torture, is serving her sentence of 23 years, four months at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. But the 40-year-old woman said recently she has a "new witness" and "new evidence" in her case, according to a letter to The Bee.

Her attorney, Eric Escamilla of Fresno, confirmed that he has newly discovered evidence but plans to appeal her case based primarily on what he called "procedural errors." The attorney said he believes there was a rush to judgment by police, and that her case should have been moved out of Sacramento because of publicity.

Even in state prison, Holycross retains some visibility. She is featured on several prisoner pen-pal Web sites, saying she is a "lonely California woman" seeking a man. Several include provocative pictures of a partially clad blonde alongside a snapshot of a more modestly dressed woman, who more closely resembles the mother photographed after Adrian's murder.

"I am looking for a mature man that's settled, likes to laugh, cuddle & be wild behind closed doors," reads one passage under her name, photo and prisoner identification number. "I had a witness that came forward that can totally clear me ... so we have plenty of time to get to know each other."

On another site - in which she describes herself as "easy-going, open-minded, fun, loving, sincere and family-oriented" - the text states that her lawyer has found "stronger evidense (sic) of a case mess-up to get me out. He said within a year we will be done!"

Holycross' relationship with men was an undercurrent in Adrian's murder investigation. At the time, the young mother reportedly told police she "had something against men," and Adrian became the scapegoat for that hatred, The Bee reported. Holycross then was a pregnant single mother of two older daughters, ages 6 and 11, and 3-year-old Adrian, each by a different father.

Only the boy was physically abused. When Adrian was rushed to the hospital on Jan. 21, 1996, his body had been brutalized. The boy, who weighed 26 pounds, was malnourished and had skull fractures, extensive bruising, numerous cigarette burns, older scarring and marks on his neck, penis and right ankle suggesting he had been tied, the forensic pathologist found.

The police detective who entered the roach-infested home in Del Paso Heights found garbage strewn about the yard and a "terrible" smell in the house that he determined to be fecal matter throughout, including in the kitchen, according to appellate court papers. In the last week of his life, the boy had become violently ill after drinking from a bowl of water he found behind a dripping, rusty toilet, the documents show.

Holycross was well-known to CPS, first in Yolo County and then in Sacramento. She had been on welfare and struggled with drug addiction but, after six months of monitoring her, Sacramento County closed the case in November 1995 when the agency determined the risk to be "moderate," according to Bee news accounts. The boy died two months later.

In her Jan. 10 letter to The Bee, Holycross speaks proudly of her daughters, who she says "know all the truths" and grew up to be "great people." Her older daughter is now the mother of a 2-year-old, while her younger daughter has joined the military, she wrote. A third daughter, born after her arrest, was adopted and turned 12 in March.

Nowhere in the letter does Holycross mention a boy named Adrian.

Her earliest possible date for parole consideration is August 2016.