The media swirl generated by the Friday release of limited grand jury documents in the JonBenet Ramsey case was a lot like the buzz created earlier this week when word got out the St. Louis Rams reached out to Brett Favre for their open quarterback position.
Both stories produced ample talk radio fodder and rehashes of days gone by. And both were marked by journalists looking to reclaim their glory years, but seeming to forget about developments that happened between then and now.
In the end, both developments weren’t really new developments at all. Brett Favre is still retired. JonBenet Ramsey’s killer is still on the loose.
On Friday, a Boulder County District Judge released grand jury documents, called true bills, that show jurors were ready in 1999 to indict John and Patsy Ramsey on two counts of child abuse charges related to their 6-year-old daughter’s death on Dec. 25, 1996. The recommended indictments seem to suggest that while the jurors didn’t believe the Ramsey’s killed their daughter, they were convinced the parents somehow put her in a position where her life was in danger and then helped cover up the murder.
Reached at his law office Friday afternoon, former Boulder County District Attorney’s Senior Trial Deputy Trip DeMuth said the release of the documents don’t change the status of the case or what the totality of the evidence shows.
“I doubt this changes anything because of the subsequent actions of the subsequent district attorney who announced the Ramseys were innocent, as well as Judge Carnes’ opinion regarding her analysis of the evidence in the case,” DeMuth said.
Despite the grand jury’s recommendations, former District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to prosecute the Ramsey parents in 1999. Four years later, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes examined all of the evidence in the case and ruled that an intruder most likely killed JonBenet. In 2008, former District Attorney Mary Lacy, Hunter’s successor, publicly exonerated the parents saying DNA and other evidence ruled them out.
Still, the release of the documents Friday seemed to bolster the Boulder Police Department, who suffered criticism for years that they bungled the case and often found themselves at odds with Hunter and the district attorney’s office. In a press release Friday, the Boulder Police Department finally was able to acknowledge, “The grand jury of 12 objective jurors ultimately agreed with investigators that probable cause existed for the filing of charges.”
“Until this release, it was difficult to remain silent in reference to our knowledge of the true bills for so many years,” Police Chief Mark Beckner said.
According to the department’s statement, “Investigators at the time were disappointed in the then district attorney’s decision not to issue indictments.”
The true bills were released in response to a lawsuit by Boulder Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Before the documents’ release, John Ramsey argued that the entire grand jury’s report should be made public. A lawyer for the John Ramsey said the partial release will only further “further defame him and his late wife Patricia Ramsey.”
In the early days of the investigation, Boulder police clashed with district attorney’s investigators who believed that the police department was focused solely on the parents and not open to evidence that suggested an intruder may have killed JonBenet.
Judge Carnes supported this belief in a 93-page ruling that was the first real public judicial analysis of the case. Although Carnes' ruling was based on a civil suit, it examined evidence gathered by police and pointed out numerous shortcomings in the investigation.
Her ruling noted that experienced investigators who were pursuing the intruder theory weren’t allowed to follow the evidence. She pointed out that famed investigator Lou Smit left the case after becoming frustrated with the Boulder police. Sheriff's Detective Steve Ainsworth and DeMuth, who also both believed evidence pointed toward an intruder as the killer, were removed from the case as well, she wrote.
"(Smit) resigned from the investigation at some point in September 1998, however, because he felt that the Boulder Police Department refused to investigate leads that pointed to an intruder as the murderer of JonBenet, and instead insisted on focusing only on (the Ramseys) as the culprits," Carnes wrote.
Evidence Carnes reviewed included an autopsy report that revealed injury to JonBenet's genitalia and unknown male DNA found under JonBenet's fingernails and in her underwear.
In 2008, Lacy issued an apology to John Ramsey writing, “"Significant new evidence . . . convinces us that it is appropriate, given the circumstances of this case, to state that we do not consider your immediate family, including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son, Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime."
Lacy said she was confident the DNA found on JonBenet and her clothes belongs to the killer.
According to the Boulder Police Department’s statement, police and prosecutors are cooperating more closely these days and have goals to “achieve unprecedented success in prosecuting cold cases, most of which had been rejected for prosecution under previous district attorneys.”
But for now, JonBenet’s killer is still unknown.
“The status of the Ramsey investigation today is that of a cold case. The case is still open, but is not actively being investigated and there are no new leads,” according to the statement. “While we believe at this point it is unlikely there will ever be a prosecution, the Boulder Police Department still holds out some hope that one day the district attorney and the Boulder Police Department will be able to put together a case worthy of presenting to a jury.”