Girl told to implicate father in Christopher Thomas case, attorney says
Convicted woman changes story
By Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel
The woman who killed Christopher Thomas continues to inflict a different kind of child abuse from prison, according to her husband’s lawyer.
Crystal Keith and her sister, who has custody of the Keiths’ 7-year-old daughter, conspired to get the girl to say her father killed Christopher and tortured the boy’s 2-year-old sister while they were under the couple’s kinship care, the man’s attorney contends.
Glen Givens, who represents Reginald Keith, says the couple’s own child has been subjected to extensive conversations meant to get her to implicate her father and exonerate her mother, manipulations that caused the child severe psychological distress resulting in night terrors, bed wetting and falling asleep at school.
The girl “is now experiencing a child’s worst nightmare,” Givens wrote in a court pleading. “To get the return of one parent, she must sacrifice the other.”
Crystal Keith, 25, is serving 50 years for killing 13-month-old Christopher and abusing his 2-year-old sister last year. Reginald Keith, 27, is charged with failing to report abuse of his niece and child neglect, and his case was set for trial this month before the case took a twist a few weeks ago.
Givens has asked a judge to move the Keiths’ daughter from her aunt’s custody, appoint a special prosecutor to take over the case against Reginald Keith and convene a John Doe investigation into possible criminal charges of witness tampering, suborning perjury and child abuse against Crystal Keith and her sister, Michelle Smith.
Reading transcripts Friday of recorded phone calls from Crystal Keith to Smith, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Borowski called the situation “very concerning,” not only for the legal issues but for the 7-year-old’s well-being.
But he said arguments about the girl’s placement belong in Children’s Court, where she is the subject of petition for protective services. He asked for more written arguments on whether a special prosecutor should be named, and left it up to Givens to request a John Doe investigation. The judge set a follow-up hearing in two weeks, and asked that the girl’s social worker and her supervisor attend.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Torbenson called Givens’ efforts to have him removed in favor of a special prosecutor ridiculous, and said that district attorneys routinely handle both criminal prosecutions and related child protection petitions around the state.
He said that since news of Crystal Keith’s apparent interest in recanting her confessions and blaming her husband, he has been in steady contact with the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare case worker assigned to the Keiths’ daughter. He said there have been no more unsupervised calls between the girl and her mother.
Crystal Keith called Torbenson’s office Sept. 23 and left a message stating, “I took the blame for (Reginald) and I need to talk to you because . . . I need to tell the truth now.” Torbenson told the judge Friday that he never sought Crystal Keith’s testimony, and would not expect to use it. He said doesn’t know exactly what her full story is, but that he’s waiting to hear from her appellate attorney, John Pray of the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Pray did not return a message Friday.
According to Givens’ court filings, his client got a letter from his wife last month urging him to confess to her crimes and stating that their daughter “knew the truth.” Givens then subpoenaed recordings of Crystal Keith’s calls from Taycheedah Correctional Institution. In some calls, Crystal Keith says her prior statements about Christopher Thomas were lies, her daughter needs to tell “the truth” about her father, and that if Reginald Keith would confess to the crimes, the girl would not have to testify.
In her earlier statements to authorities, Crystal Keith said her daughter was never present when she abused Christopher Thomas and his sister, and that she actively hid evidence of the victims’ abuse from her husband.
Some of the phone calls suggest that the idea of changing her story and getting her child to corroborate it emerged when Crystal Keith realized what she faced in prison time.
“I can’t do this here. If you know what I mean now,” she tells Smith, and later, “I’m hopin’, um, that he tell the truth and get me out.”
In some of the calls, Smith tells her sister how the Keiths’ daughter is having trouble sleeping, and how she’s afraid her father might get mad at her, or, if she doesn’t say the new things, her mother would be mad at her.
When her niece’s caseworker visited around Sept. 22, Smith told her the girl had new information. That’s when the girl told the caseworker that her mother had told her to say things about her father, and the alleged scheme appeared to collapse.