JonBenet Ramsey case takes major twist
Thursday, April 10, 2003
DENVER -- For more than six years, John and Patsy Ramsey have insisted an intruder crept into their home and killed their 6-year-old daughter JonBenet while police and even Colorado's governor kept them under an "umbrella of suspicion."
Now a civil judge in Atlanta and the Boulder district attorney say the parents may have been right all along, agreeing that the weight of the evidence is more consistent with the intruder theory.
The statements represent a significant twist in a case that has been splashed across newspapers and television programs since 1996. The Ramseys' attorney believes the parents have been cleared.
"I think it should be viewed as an exoneration of the Ramseys," said L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, where the parents now live. "It's a clear signal the investigation is not going to focus on John and Patsy Ramsey."
Legal analysts aren't so sure. And they are divided on whether the case will ever be solved.
"With each passing week, let alone each passing month or year, statistically there's less of a chance a case will be solved," said Scott Robinson, a Denver defense lawyer who has followed the case from the start.
Early on Dec. 26, 1996, Patsy Ramsey called 911 and reported finding a ransom note on the back stairs demanding $118,000 in exchange for JonBenet's life. Hours later, John Ramsey found his daughter's beaten, strangled body in the basement of their upscale Boulder home.
The parents came under early suspicion, but a grand jury investigation ended without indictments and there was high-profile squabbling between prosecutors and police, who were accused of botching the case.
After declining to appoint a special prosecutor to the case in 1999, Gov. Bill Owens accused the Ramseys of hiding behind their attorneys.
The case appeared to be cold until District Attorney Mary Keenan took it over in December. In a letter to Wood, she said police had done an exhaustive investigation of the Ramseys as potential suspects and her office would pursue new or previously unchecked leads.
The intruder theory largely is supported by unexplained evidence: a mysterious boot print outside the house; DNA of an unknown male on JonBenet and her underpants; marks on her body that could have been made by a stun gun; and signs that someone may have entered the house through a basement window.
Police have said experts could not conclusively rule out Patsy Ramsey as the ransom note author. They also noted the difficulty of an intruder being able to enter the home on Christmas night, grab JonBenet from her bed and take her to the basement to strangle her without being detected.
Late last month, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes of Atlanta wrote that "the weight of the evidence is more consistent with a theory that an intruder murdered JonBenet than it is with a theory that Mrs. Ramsey did it."
The wording was in a decision throwing out a lawsuit by a freelance journalist who sued the Ramseys because they named him as a possible suspect in their daughter's murder in their book.
Keenan said she agreed with Carnes' conclusion but declined further comment. Her office spokesman said he did not know if the statement essentially clears the Ramseys.
Robinson said the Ramseys should feel relieved. "They know they're not going to get a knock, knock, knock on the door," he said.
CBS-TV legal analyst Andrew Cohen, though, said Keenan's statement shouldn't be seen as "any blanket future sort of promise from anyone."
"When the district attorney says, 'We don't think the Ramseys did it,' it doesn't mean forever and all time," Cohen said.
He said Keenan has not necessarily departed from the course of her one-time boss -- former prosecutor Alex Hunter, who concluded there wasn't enough evidence to charge anyone.
Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said he was surprised Keenan went public with what he called her personal beliefs, and that her statement might be interpreted as criticism of police.
Wood said he is confident the case can be solved because of the DNA evidence. He disputed police statements that the evidence is too contaminated to be useful.
Still, the horror the Ramseys have lived through the past six years will never completely fade, Wood said. They lost their child and they lost their privacy.
"The false accusations made against John and Patsy Ramsey will impact generations of the Ramseys' family," he said.