First he said Miguel fell off the toilet and hit his head.
Then he changed the story, claiming that his wife beat the child.
Finally, Rickey Haney admitted that he was the one who brutally beat his 2-year-old foster son, although he insisted he had no clearmemory of it because he'd been intoxicated at the time.
This is Miguel's story.
There are many foster parents in the United States who decide to take on the challenge of caring for children because they deeply care. They want to make a difference in the lives of homeless little ones.
Unfortunately, there are also those who become foster parents mainly for the money.
Rickey Haney, an unemployed handyman, and his wife E'von, made a living by taking in foster children. They were paid several hundred dollars for each child they cared for. In addition, E'von had a young daughter of her own, "Anna". Rickey Haney had a recent arrest record
that included drunk driving, careless driving, and driving on a suspended license. He was also known to have a temper, especially when he was drinking.
In 1996, 11-year-old Anna accused Rickey of beating her. At the time, Rickey and E'von were licensed foster parents through a private foster care agency called Synthesis, Inc, in Lakewood, Colorado. Although the county caseworkers who investigated the abuse allegations decided that they were unfounded, Pat Higgins, the director of Synthesis, Inc, was
sure that Anna was not lying. So sure, that she told Rickey and E'von she would not be placing any more children in their home.
Ms. Higgins also reported Anna's allegations to the Colorado Department of Human Services. But since Anna was Rickey's stepdaughter, and not a foster child, the state did not note the
incident in Synthesis's licensing file. When Rickey and E'von applied to be foster parents through All About Kids, Inc, another private foster care agency, they did not mention Synthesis, Inc, or the other two private agencies they had worked for before.
As for Miguel Arias-Baca, some people say his nightmare started the day he was born to a poverty-stricken teenaged mother with a seventh grade education. Odelia Baca, along with Miguel and his baby brother Oswaldo, lived in Aurora, Colorado. They stayed mostly on Colfax, a street lined with pawnshops, liquor stores, bars, drug dealers and prostitutes. Many people, struggling to stay one step above homelessness, take up temporary residency in the string of run-down motels on Colfax Street. In Miguel's first few years of life, he and
his family lived in three or four of those motels. Miguel's father had a history of hitting Odelia. Odelia also may possibly have had a history of drug use. In 1998, Adams County officials received reports that Odelia was addicted to crack and was neglecting her sons. Some of her friends insist that Odelia was no longer on drugs by the time Miguel's brother Oswaldo was
born, and that she tried hard to be a good mother to her small boys. They believe that the reports were made by an acquaintance of Odelia's who had recently argued with her.
Most likely, little Miguel couldn't even begin to understand any of this. For him, the real nightmare began one October night, when he and his brother Oswaldo were removed from their mother's care and placed in the Haney's foster home.
Odelia was determined to do anything she could to get her sons back. She moved into a house with some family members, obtained a steady job, went through counseling, and submitted to random drug tests. Her mother, Anita Baca, asked social workers for temporary custody of Miguel and Oswaldo. She was denied, although Anita and Odelia did get
weekly supervised visits with the boys. Several different times on these visits, they noticed bruises and scratches on Miguel. Miguel would point to the bruises and say, "Ouch!", as if trying to tell them what had happened. Anita even took photos of Miguel, showing him with red marks on his forehead and cheek. They told the social workers that they were afraid Miguel was being hit. Each time, the social workers promised to investigate, but refused to put the children in a different foster home or give Anita temporary custody.
On Super Bowl Sunday, 1999, Rickey and E'von Haney went to a Super Bowl party, leaving Miguel and Oswaldo, two other foster children, and E'von's 14-year-old daughter Anna, with a babysitter. When they returned, Rickey was intoxicated, so E'von was the one who left to
drive the babysitter home. Rickey became angry with Miguel, when he found that the little boy
had soiled his diaper. He picked up Miguel and took him into the bathroom, where he slammed the child's head against the tile floor over and over again. He then sat Miguel on the toilet, pulled off the diaper, and smeared it on Miguel's face.
Anna heard the slamming noises coming from the bathroom. She heard her younger foster brother crying. She went into the bathroom and found Miguel, sitting on the toilet with feces smeared on his face, crying. Anna brought Miguel out to the living room couch, and tried to
comfort him. She noticed that he seemed dazed, and she was afraid that he'd been hurt very badly.
Although a fourteen-year-old child could tell that Miguel needed help, Rickey and E'von waited until the next morning to bring Miguel to St. Anthony North Hospital. That is when they told staff that Miguel had fallen off the toilet and hurt his head. At first, nobody thought to question the story. But as it became apparent just how severe Miguel's injuries were, the doctors began to suspect that there was more to the story. The tiny boy had bruises all
over his body. His brain was swelling with blood. Within an hour after arriving at the hospital, he was brain dead. On February 2, at Denver Children's Hospital, Miguel died.
An autopsy showed that Miguel's fatal injuries were non-accidental. When authorities began focusing their investigation on the Haneys, Rickey told them that E'von had beaten Miguel. He convinced E'von to go along with the story. She would get a much lighter sentence than he
would, he told his wife.
However, there was one person who knew the truth and was willing to come forward with it Anna Haney. The young girl told the police everything she'd seen and heard, the night her stepfather came home drunk and beat her foster brother to death.
Shortly thereafter, police found Rickey in a parked minivan. He'd attempted suicide by washing Tylenol down with Nyquil. Rickey was taken into custody, and temporarily hospitalized. When he was released from the hospital, the police questioned Rickey once again about Miguel's death. This time they confronted him with the truth. Rickey broke down, and admitted it. He told the police he had slammed Miguel's head against the floor and smeared feces on his face. But, he pleaded, it was not his fault, because he'd been intoxicated at the time. He begged the police not to send him to prison, offering to do community service instead.
Because Miguel's mother could not be found right away, TV and newspaper reports had been referring to Miguel simply as "Baby Boy Doe". The early reports described Baby Boy Doe as having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, so Odelia Baca didn't connect the stories to her own son.
Still, she was worried about Miguel and Oswaldo. If one child in foster care had been abused so badly, couldn't the same thing happen to her sons?
Odelia had a court date on February 10. She was feeling hopeful that day as she headed to the courthouse. She thought she could convince the judge that she'd made enough progress to have her children back. But when she got to the courthouse, her social workers were waiting
for her. They asked her to follow them into a private room, where they broke the news to her that Miguel was dead. Of course, Odelia was heart broken. She was angry, as well, feeling
that the entire system had failed her and Miguel. The state had taken her children from her because they claimed she was an unfit mother, and they'd even refused to give her mother temporary custody of the boys. Yet it had been Rickey Haney, the foster father licensed and
entrusted by the state to care for Miguel and Oswaldo, who had eventually killed Miguel. She wondered, how could this have happened?
The next day, Anita Baca pleaded with the social workers to give her temporary custody of 14-month-old Oswaldo. After what had happened to Miguel, she didn't want Oswaldo to remain in foster care for even another day. But Anita was told she would have to wait until May, when Odelia would have another custody hearing. Three months, Anita and
Odelia feared, was far too long to wait. However, three days later when they had a visit with Oswaldo, the baby seemed happy and healthy. He and the Haneys' other two foster children, aged six and two, had quickly been moved to another home.
Because of Miguel Arias-Baca's death, the Legislature passed a law that following summer, which requires that people applying to be foster parents list the names of every agency for which they've worked. The agency being applied to must then contact all of the other
agencies listed on the application. The Legislature also made it a criminal perjury offense to lie on a foster-care application. Hopefully, these new laws will keep others like Rickey and E'von Haney from becoming foster parents through private agencies after being dismissed from different agencies.
Throughout the court case, Rickey Haney continued to insist that Miguel's death was not his fault, because he'd been drunk at the time. He also continued to plead for a light sentence, saying that he was afraid he wouldn't "make it" in prison, and that he was "too nervous".
On August 30, 2000, Rickey was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. He will most likely serve only one half of this sentence in a prison.
To Rickey Haney, twenty-five years may seem like a very long amount of time. But to those who knew Miguel, the child who was punished by death for soiling his diaper, twenty-five years seems like no time at all.