A grand jury investigating the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey voted to indict the 6-year-old’s parents on charges of child abuse resulting in death, but the district attorney at the time refused to sign the indictment, leaving the impression that the grand jury investigation was inconclusive, according to an article in the Boulder Daily Camera.
“No charges have been filed,” former District Attorney Alex Hunter said at the time. “I and my prosecution task force believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant a filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time.”
Had he signed the indictment, it would have been obvious that the grand jury considered JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, responsible for her death. Hunter’s office later put out a statement that no one involved in the case would ever discuss the grand jury proceedings no matter “how much that might help in the public’s understanding.”
The paper reported this new twist in Colorado’s most enduring murder mystery Sunday, adding that legal experts are split as to whether Hunter was required to sign the grand jury’s indictment, called a “true bill,” even if he ultimately decided not to prosecute.
Jurors interviewed by the paper said they believed JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, were in some way responsible for her death — or could have done something to prevent it — but they weren’t sure how.
“We didn’t know who did what,” the Camera quotes one juror as saying, “but we felt the adults in the house may have done something that they certainly could have prevented, or they could have helped her, and they didn’t.”
The case was bizarre from the start. JonBenet was originally reported kidnapped from her home on Dec. 26, 1996, after Patsy Ramsey reportedly discovered a ransom note demanding $118,000 left by a group calling itself “a small foreign faction.”
Her body was soon discovered in a remote room in the basement. She had been strangled and suffered a skull fracture.
Police and prosecutors have come under nearly constant criticism for their handling of the case. Police were criticized for not properly containing the crime scene and allowing John Ramsey to move his daughter’s body from the basement to the living room, thereby contaminating evidence.
Investigators were split over whether to focus on family members or to pursue a theory that an intruder murdered JonBenet. In 2006, police arrested John Mark Karr, a 41-year-old American living in Bangkok who confessed to crime, but charges were dropped when his DNA didn’t match a spot of blood found in JonBenet’s underwear.
John Kolar, one of the former lead investigators, published a book in 2012 in which he claims to debunk the intruder theory, laying suspicion back upon those inside the house on the night of the murder.
The grand jury apparently also felt JonBenet’s parents were to blame, voting to indict them in October 1999.
Legal experts cited in the Camera article disagree as to whether Hunter did the right thing or not by refusing to sign the true bill. A former assistant DA called it “a pretty courageous decision” considering the public pressure to bring charges against someone.
But a law professor who’d followed the case closely said that the proper course would have been for Hunter to sign the bill and then — if he felt he didn’t have sufficient evidence to proceed — dismiss the charges in open court.
“That would be the more transparent and responsible course, in my opinion,” University of Colorado Law School professor Mimi Wesson wrote in an email to the paper.
Absent that transparency, the Ramseys’ attorneys have publicly speculated that the lack of charges meant that the grand jury agreed not to indict the parents.
Hunter’s predecessor, former District Attorney Mary Lacy, officially cleared the Ramseys of any wrongdoing in 2008, but the current district attorney, Stan Garnett, continues to investigate the case and has said he will follow the evidence wherever it leads. Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006. John Ramsey lives in Atlanta.
Hunter declined to comment for the article, citing grand jury law that prevents participants from commenting on proceedings.
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