Some documents in the JonBenet Ramsey case will be unsealed on Friday despite criticism from the Ramsey family and prosecutors.  In January, the Boulder Daily Camera, citing unidentified jurors as well as an assistant district attorney, said the grand jury had voted to indict JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death, but the prosecutor decided not to move forward.

“We do not have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges,” then-Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter said in 1999.  He didn’t specifically cite any grand jury investigation, but made a general statement about lacking evidence.  The prosecutor did not sign the indictment.  A recent lawsuit by a Daily Camera reporter, Charlie Brennan, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press caused the action by the judge to partially unseal the unprosecuted document.  The reporter sued saying that the documents should be public knowledge.  Weld County Judge Robert Lowenbach ruled that releasing the document is not a breach of grand-jury rules.  The judge ordered that 18 of the pages be unsealed.  There will be nine pages on John Ramsey and nine pages on Patsy Ramsey, according to the order.  Lowenbach denied the request to release all documents, saying it would set a precedent and hinder future grand juries.

“The court concludes that the secrecy required in the grand jury process…is not compromised through a process that requires the presentment of the indictment in open court,” Lowenbach wrote in the four-page ruling earlier, “Under this procedure, there is no breach of the secrecy and confidentiality expected in grand jury proceedings…”

Current Boulder County D.A. Stan Garnett could not show to the satisfaction of the judge that the documents should remain sealed and neither could the Chief Trial Deputy (custodian of the records) Sean Finn.  In 1999, a grand jury that had convened for over 13 months and looked over 30,000 pieces of evidence voted to indict the parents of JonBenet Ramsey.  A grand jury does not decide innocence or guilt, but instead are intended to be used as another check and balance to shield innocent citizens from weak cases.  All a grand jury does is hear evidence presented only from the prosecution, subpoenas documents and evidence for review, and calls witnesses to testify.  Then, they decide if there is enough probable cause to indict someone.  A grand jury is not screened for bias and is comprised of 16 to 23 people.  The ordinary rules of evidence are not followed during a grand jury proceeding.  The prosecutors and the grand jury members convene in secret and no one can attest to what occurred inside.  It is unusual for transcripts to be available to anyone.  And no defense is part of the proceedings.

Even the judge in this case said in a previous ruling, “…the grand jury’s ‘indictment’ is not required to be supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but that the district attorney cannot proceed with a prosecution unless he has a reasonable belief that he can obtain a conviction.”

The question is why after all of these years and all of the developments would a reporter want this indictment?  What purpose would it serve for the media?  Why is Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press pushing to compel the release of an indictment already proven null by new evidence?  The lawsuit argued that the release of the document “would serve the public interest in government transparency.”  Attorneys for Brennan and the press committee argued the indictment should be disclosed publicly because it’s a criminal justice record.  The judge said he thought that not unveiling the indictment caused the public to be unable to “…consider the conflict between the decisions of the prosecutor and the grand jury.”

The Ramsey case, like many others under the media spotlight, wandered far afield into the wilderness of speculation and wild accusations.  But, evidence all along pointed to another person, it was just ignored.  In a previous judge’s ruling we learned that reports the media told us where untrue, which isn’t unusual for a high-profile case.  All the news agencies are clamoring for the top Nielsen spot, so they can charge advertisers more.  That’s how they make money.  Having the fastest and most salacious story is sadly more important than having the most accurate news story, most of the time.  This indictment should show us that innocent people can be indicted, are indicted, are tried, and are sometimes found guilty of crimes they did not commit.  That people languish in prison for no reason and it’s harder to get out than to get in.  There certainly was a lot of pressure in this case like all high-profile cases, especially child cases.  Imagine if the prosecution had signed the indictment.  They could have proceeded to trial with what they had.  Presumably the defense would have put on an “intruder theory” defense.  With all the media buzz surrounding the trial, seating the right “informed” juror could have sealed a conviction.  The media often has a better case than any prosecutor because they aren’t tied down by reality.  They often have a selective memory when following their chosen agenda for the coverage of a case.

Proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt is a complicated process.  Reasonable doubt is individual to jurors.  Any jury can surprise you whether it is a guilty or not guilty verdict.  Holes in a prosecutor’s case aren’t always enough to make people question the charges.  There are tons of scenarios, but the fact is that if you are taken to trial there is always a chance no matter the evidence that you will be convicted.  If John and Patsy Ramsey had been convicted, what would have happened?  Well, child abuse resulting in death in Colorado would have resulted in a sentence between 4 to 48 years.  The two could have served an entire sentence before concrete non-circumstantial evidence surfaced proving their innocence.  In fact, Patsy Ramsey could have died in prison before that was revealed (she died from cancer in 2006).  Tragically, Patsy Ramsey died still under the microscope of the ferocious public and media.  The prosecution and police knew in 2003 that there was DNA from a stranger on the evidence, but they didn’t publicly exonerate the Ramseys until 5 years later in 2008 in a press conference.  This completely supported the assertions made by the Ramseys for about a decade.

We often get one picture from the media and all the information available on a case, the opinions of the masses, but a different picture when you actually research a case and find out what happens behind the scenes.  In this case, we got a very good behind the scenes picture during a civil trial.  The Ramsey case has been reviewed multiple times over the years, by multiple parties, including most importantly a judge in the 2000s.

In 2001, Boulder journalist Chris Wolf sued John and Patsy Ramsey after Wolf said he was mentioned as a suspect in the Ramsey’s book, The Death of Innocence.  Interestingly, Wolf went a step further.  He went with the prevailing theory at the time by the media and the police that Patsy Ramsey killed her daughter and he accused her of this in his lawsuit.  He probably didn’t know this, but by accusing her of this we got a very good picture of what was really going on.  He claimed that she killed her daughter because she wet the bed and he was named because the Ramseys wanted the public to stop focusing on them.  Because he said this in his lawsuit, he had to prove that Patsy Ramsey was involved.  He failed miserably, but the lawsuit proved something else.  Keep in mind, this was before the DNA evidence was available.

U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes looked over the case for nearly 2 years and made her ruling in 2003.  She revealed a lot:

  • The evidence was an unknown pubic hair, bondage devices, duct tape, animal hairs, a boot print, stun gun marks, and unknown male DNA.
  • On December 25, 1996, the evening started out as normal as any other; the Ramseys attended a Christmas party at the home of their friends, Fleet and Priscilla White.  The children fell asleep in the car on the way home and were put in bed.  The family was planning to wake up early to fly to Michigan for a family vacation.
  • A neighbor told police she heard a scream in the early morning hours of December 26th, but the parents did not.  Carnes ruled that multiple experiments proved this was completely possible.

“Experiments have demonstrated that the vent from the basement may have amplified the scream so that it could have been heard outside the house, but not three stories up…” Carnes wrote.

  • Relying on the theories of Boulder detective Steve Thomas, Wolf said that Patsy was wearing the same clothes the next day, so she didn’t go to bed and that she became upset when her daughter wet the bed.  In a fit of rage, she slammed her head into a hard surface and then staged a crime scene.  The autopsy had found that JonBenet Ramsey suffered a severe blow to the head.  The problem with his theory was it played great on TV, but not in real life.

“Plaintiff has provided no evidence for this theory,” Carnes wrote.

  • JonBenet was found in the wine cellar in the basement of the family’s home with duct tape covering her mouth. A cord was around her neck, attached to a wooden garrote, and her hands were bound over her head.  She was covered with a blanket.
  • The slipknots and garrote were both sophisticated bondage devices, “evidence from these devices suggests they were made by someone with expertise…” Carnes wrote.  No similar items were “sourced” in the home, including black duct tape, rope (except for a rope found in a brown paper bag in the guest bedroom), etc.
  • Animal hair, possibly a beaver, was found on the duct tape, but nothing in the home matched it.
  • Other animal hairs were found on JonBenet’s hands that also matched nothing in the home.
  • Other evidence pointing to an intruder was a shoeprint of a “HI-TEC” boot (not found in the home) in the mold on the basement floor and a palm print (not matching anyone in the home).
  • Police also found a baseball bat not owned by the Ramseys outside the home with fibers consistent with fibers in the carpet of the basement.
  • A forensic pathologist concluded that the injuries to the right side of JonBenet’s face were consistent with injuries suffered from a stun gun.   No stun gun was found to have been in the possession of the Ramseys.
  • An autopsy report revealed an injury to JonBenet’s genitalia suggesting she was sexually assaulted.
  • No hairs found on JonBenet Ramsey matched her brother, mother, or father.  (Later, DNA would be added to this.)

Carnes also wrote at length about the irresponsible, inaccurate media reports during the case that caused public animosity toward the Ramseys.

“Moreover, contrary to media reports that had discredited an intruder theory, based on the lack of ‘footprints in the snow,’ there was no snow covering the sidewalks and walkways to the defendants’ home on the morning of December 26, 1996,” Carnes wrote. “Hence, a person walking along these paths would have left no footprints.”

She went on to elaborate about other dishonest moments the media had, for instance, media coverage reported that an intruder couldn’t have fit in the basement window.  Multiple experiments proved that a full-size adult could enter through the basement window, contrary to the media reports.

Carnes also pointed out the police department’s inadequate investigation.

  • When police responded to a possible kidnapping after the ransom note was found (the body wasn’t found for another 8 hours), they compromised the scene.  They did not seal off anything, other than JonBenet’s bedroom and everyone could freely move around the home.
  • The Boulder police also had limited experience with homicides.  Commander Jon Eller had never conduct a murder investigation.  Detective Steve Thomas had no prior experience either, having previously served as a narcotics officer.  Finally, Mark Beckner, who took charge about a year afterwards, had limited experience as well.
  • The police did not interview the parents separately.  The parents were interviewed together, multiple times and became the lead suspects.
  • In addition, no other suspects were investigated.  The tunnel-vision was so bad that an investigator that D.A. Hunter hired quit due to frustration caused by the police refusing to look at any other leads.
  • Two other men were removed from the case for believing that an intruder was the culprit, Detective Steve Ainsworth and Assistant District Attorney Trip DeMuth.

As is often the case in high-profile cases, the prosecution and police used the media as a “scare tactic”.

“Pursuant to the FBI’s suggestion that the Boulder Police publicly name defendants as subjects and apply intense media pressure to them so that they would confess to the crime, the police released many statements that implied defendants were guilty and were not cooperating…” Carnes wrote.

  • The media often criticized the Ramseys for not being cooperative when the truth was they were very cooperative.  It was simply a ploy tactic.

The evidence against the parents consisted of no real motive, no sign of forced entry, the ransom note being written from paper found inside the home, the garrote was a paintbrush from Patsy Ramsey’s kit, and the note mentioned financial details about the family.

Despite all of these developments people still believe the Ramseys killed their daughter.  I guess nothing beats the media’s initial coverage, even facts.  It’s hard to go to people after years of telling them one thing and say we were wrong.  Even former Boulder County D.A. Mary Keenan released a statement following the judge’s ruling, but before the DNA results were released, saying she agreed with the ruling, Patsy Ramsey did not kill her daughter.  Several prosecutors at the time, anonymously, stated that they were concerned about her issuing that statement.  Many wondered whether the Ramseys could ever be prosecuted.  Even with all the evidence of their innocence, they wondered whether they could convict them?

The grand jury didn’t have all of this information and often they do not because, as stated above, prosecutors can present pretty much whatever they want.  The grand jury was wrong.  I don’t know what the media plans on doing with this release, but I hope people learn the real lesson.  Innocent people get railroaded by the media and the government for crimes they did not commit.  As a member of the public, I’m glad that the Ramseys didn’t spend any time in prison and the public didn’t spend any money on the trial or appeals.  A gross miscarriage of justice was averted.  People didn’t realize it at the time, many thought that the Ramseys were getting away with murder.  Many treated the Ramseys terribly.  Nothing that happened can be undone.  The truth is what people witnessed was the suffering of innocent grieving parents.

John Ramsey told People magazine in 1999 that his attorneys had prepared him to go to jail.  That is horrible.  Sometimes there isn’t enough evidence because someone is innocent.  In this interconnected world, people need to get back to the Constitution and human rights basics and start thinking about the innocence of people.  You are one of these people.  You are presumed innocent, isn’t that important?

One would much rather that twenty guilty persons should escape the punishment of death, than that one innocent person should be condemned and suffer capitally.” – Sir John Fortescue (c. 1470)

“It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned.” – Increase Mather, 1692

It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” – Sir William Blackstone in the 1760s.

It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” – Benjamin Franklin.

On December 26, 1996, 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found bludgeoned and strangled to death in the basement of her family home.  If she were alive today, JonBenet would be 23.  We should learn our presumption of innocence lesson, as we shouldn’t have forgotten, and turn our focus 16 years later to whose DNA that is.

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Comments
  1. Lissa says:

    This reads good for the people who really haven’t looked at all the actual evidence. BUT in reality this article is full of false info. First the baver hair found at the crime scene was traced back to a pair of boots owned by Mrs. Ramsey. The Hi-tech boot print is from a pair of boots owned by Burke Ramsey, brother of JonBent. The “unidentifed” palm print found on wine cellar door was sourced back to melinda Ramsey, half-sister of JonBenet. The “DNA” (TDNA) is so minute that only a few markers of DNA were extracted and it is partial DNA, found on the inside of the waist band of her panties, which more than likely came from a cough or sneeze of a factory worker when making the panties. The Ramsey’s never fully cooperated with police. after her bodyw as found and the Ramsey’s were at the White’s house and LE came to speak with them trying to get an interview, they had already lawyered up and nver spoke to police until April of 1997, months after their own child was murdered. Now, if my child was killed and I knew police were looking at me, I would do whatever it takes to prove I’m innocent. I sure wouldn’t wait until 4 months later to speak with investigators. Getting a lawyer is good, I would too, but the parents should have been in the BPD headquaters shortly after she was found and not hiding behind their lawyers. The GJ handed down an indictment, in which, Alex Hunter, lied about and decided not to sign it. This from a DA who hadn’t been to court in over 10 years and who had little trial experience. Of course he isn’t going to take this to trial. He would have been made a fool of. Not to mention his relationship with the Ramsey’s. And the stun gun has never been proven as to what caused the injuries. Oh, and the nylon cord she was “tied” up with was similar to what was purchased for $2.29 at a local hardware store by Patsy Ramsey before her child was killed. The only thing the release of the GJ proceedings shows us is once again justice is being denied for JonBenet Ramsey.

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    • You missed the point of my article entirely. It had two major points:
      1. I was pointing out that the judge’s ruling in the lawsuit was the most recent comprehensive analysis of the case.
      2. The media outright lies and sensationalizes high-profile cases not caring about the truth, the victim, or anyone else involved. They misinform viewers, sometimes on purpose, in a ratings race to the biggest profits.

      I was not rehashing the entire case. My article was a recitation on tunnel vision and how it affects the integrity of investigations. Whether that tunnel vision is the police, prosecutors, media, or public, or any combination, doesn’t matter. It is detrimental to the search for justice and truth. While I respect your right to have your opinion, I researched all the things you cited to see if there were any new developments on those items. I found no credible evidence to confirm that those things prove the family is guilty. I do not pass on information to my readers that cannot be substantiated with credible sources. I have heard all types of speculation from people who are determined that Patsy Ramsey did this. In my opinion, the opinions I’ve read all across the Internet are biased tainted, hateful, and cruel. I do not participate in trash talk or uncivilized conversations. My blog’s purpose is to inform and open up a civilized, non-hateful, fact-based, Constitutional conversation. These people are so blinded by their hate; they don’t even care that unidentified male DNA is on the underwear of a sexually assaulted, murdered child. They will create excuses just like yours. If there were factory workers leaving DNA it would be a big issue in criminal cases. I personally have never heard that as an even-attempted defense or challenge to evidence in any case or appeal.

      If there is male DNA on a raped, murdered child, how can it not be of the utmost importance to investigate?

      The size of the profile does not matter when clearing a suspect. The markers on the partial, trace, or full profile, no matter how much material is there, can be compared. When compared if a marker doesn’t match a marker on a suspect at the same place in the DNA strand, they cannot possibly be the person.

      As far as D.A. Alex Hunter goes, D.A.s often do not try cases themselves. They delegate them to other prosecutors. It is quite common. Even if they take on a high-profile case to boost their political career, it is often a 100% slam-dunk or just the pre-trial hearings. He would not have had to take the case to court at all. His experience in the courtroom is irrelevant. However, he was a D.A. for more than 25 years and is well respected for his tenure in office. He is well known as a successful prosecutor and reformer. He created a Consumer Protection Unit and a Victim Witness Unit (one of the first of its kind in the nation). There is no evidence I could find that says that Hunter was a friend to the Ramseys. I’m not sure how close of friends they could be given Hunter leaked information to the media in order to make the Ramseys look guilty to the public, a pressure tactic often used by prosecutors and police to gain traction in a case that has hit a dead-end. Even if he were their friend, how would you explain his successors? Including, in 2008, when Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy cleared the Ramseys of suspicion and formally apologized, a very rare occurrence. It was such a rare move that other prosecutors and police officers criticized her for it, saying it would confuse the public as to what a prosecutor’s job is. He did not hide the grand jury proceeding or lie about it. Grand jury proceedings are sealed and if the person is indicted by the grand jury, but not charged by the prosecutor, they remain sealed as to not damage a person’s reputation unnecessarily.

      The grand jury did not indict the Ramsey parents for murder or anything close to that. This means that the prosecution showed the grand jury everything they had and the grand jury investigated whatever they wanted in connection with the case and they could not find probable cause to charge the Ramseys with murder. Probable cause is the lowest standard in our justice system, which basically means that a reasonably intelligent and prudent person could believe the accused may have committed the crime in question. Perhaps you missed it, but I believe I explained that saying people did not cooperate is an FBI tactic taught to local police departments to pressure suspects using the media to create public scrutiny, discontent, and hate toward the person they are fixating on. It does not necessarily mean that they actually didn’t cooperate.

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  2. Word! says:

    Excellent analysis!

    Like

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