Previously sealed court documents released Friday show that a Colorado grand jury voted in 1999 to indict the parents of murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death and being accessories to a crime.
The district attorney decided that year, however, not to file charges against John and Patricia Ramsey, saying there was insufficient evidence. In 2008, a new district attorney said new DNA evidence cleared the parents and their son in the death.
A Colorado court ordered the release of the previously sealed court documents, putting new attention on the unsolved 1996 death of JonBenet Ramsey, a girl who won child beauty pageants and whose murder shocked the nation. The pages were sealed in 1999, after the grand jury in the case dispersed without charges being filed.
The court documents show how the grand jury sought to charge each parent with two identical counts.
The grand jury had alleged that Patricia Paugh Ramsey, who later died from ovarian cancer in 2006, and husband John Bennett Ramsey “did … permit a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child’s life or health which resulted in the death of JonBenet Ramsey.”
The grand jury also had alleged that each parent “did … render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of murder in the first degree and child abuse resulting in death.”
The documents provide no further details on who that “person” was. The grand jury had accused the couple of committing the offenses “on or between December 25 and December 26, 1996.” JonBenet was found murdered in the basement of the family’s Boulder home the day after Christmas 1996.
Ever since their daughter’s murder, John Ramsey and his late wife maintained they had nothing to do with it.
The murder case is considered “open,” but it’s a cold case, meaning there’s no active investigation, Boulder police spokeswoman Kim Kobel said Thursday, a day before the documents’ release.
Police have no solid leads, but the police chief is expected to review the released documents before deciding whether they warrant any action, Kobel said.
Boulder County District Attorney Stanley L. Garnett declined to issue an immediate statement Friday, but a spokeswoman said a statement will be published as as op-ed in Sunday’s Boulder Daily Camera newspaper.
“This case is a Boulder case and the district attorney answers to his constituency: the people of Boulder County,” spokeswoman Catherine Olguin said in a statement. “Also, the issues surrounding the case are complex and nuanced and do not readily lend themselves to a short sound bite.”
Winner of child pageants
As a little beauty queen, JonBenet pranced across the stage and into America’s heart 17 years ago. In heavy makeup, almost like a real-life doll, her images captivated the nation with every strut, every twirl, every wave.
But even with the fame that followed her death, the question of who killed her remains unanswered.
The 1999 a grand jury that recommended charges against her parents said there was evidence that the child was sexually assaulted, according to court documents. Her parents have consistently maintained they had nothing to do with her death.
An analysis of the girl’s clothes showed the source of the DNA was not a family member, according to court documents.
Death of a beauty queen
On Christmas of 1996, JonBenet got a bike as a gift. The next day, her parents called police to report she had been kidnapping. They said they found a note demanding a ransom of $118,000 for her return.
But later that day, she was found dead in the basement of their home.
Questions and speculation reigned. Her parents lived under a cloud of suspicion. Were they involved? Was there an intruder in the house that night?
More years went by. The little girl remained forever 6.
In October 1999, grand jurors assigned to the case went back home, sworn to silence. The eight women and four men had convened regularly for 13 months. They heard from dozens of witnesses, considered 30,000 pieces of evidence. All with one question in mind: Who killed JonBenet?
They had nothing to show for their efforts. Or so it seemed.
A Colorado judge Wednesday ordered the release of 18 pages sealed after the grand jury dispersed.
There are two pages about her mother and two pages about her father, according to an order from Judge J. Robert Lowenbach. Only documents signed by a foreman are being released, according to the judge’s order, which says the court can release only official documents.
In January, the Boulder Daily Camera, citing unidentified jurors and an assistant district attorney, said the grand jury voted to indict her parents on charges of child abuse resulting in death.
Lowenbach’s order Wednesday made reference to the grand jury’s report.
“It appears that the district attorney, presumably acting at the direction of the grand jury, prepared a series of possible charges regarding John Ramsey and Patricia Ramsey based on the fact that the child had died and that there was evidence that a sexual assault of the child occurred,” Lowenbach wrote.
Despite the grand jury’s report, the district attorney said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to warrant filing charges.
Then-Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter did not sign the indictment, according to the Daily Camera. It has remained sealed for years.
“I have known for years that Boulder prosecutors did not file charges against John and Patsy Ramsey because the evidence to prosecute them did not exist,” Lin Wood, the Atlanta lawyer for John Ramsey, said this year.
The newspaper said the decision to unseal the unprosecuted indictment was in response to a lawsuit by its reporter and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
‘Killer on the loose’
John Ramsey and his family have always said they are not guilty.
“There’s a killer on the loose,” Patsy Ramsey, said a few days after the body was found. “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know if it’s a she or a he, but … there’s someone out there.”
In 2008, then-District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote a letter to John Ramsey, saying that new DNA evidence had cleared him, his wife and son. She formally apologized for the cloud of suspicion the Ramseys lived under for years.
Years went by. More questions, more investigations.
Last week, John Ramsey’s attorney wrote to District Attorney Stan Garnett, requesting the documents be kept secret.
“Public release of the allegations of an unprosecuted indictment only serves to further defame (John Ramsey) and his late wife,” wrote Harold Haddon.
Lowenbach denied the request. State law requires official actions by the grand jury to be released, he said.
The parents have always maintained that an intruder killed the little beauty queen.
In 2006, a breakthrough appeared imminent with the arrest of John Mark Karr in Bangkok, Thailand. The 41-year-old teacher repeatedly said he loved the little girl and was with her the night she died. He insisted her death was an accident.
But soon after his arrest and return to Colorado, prosecutors said DNA evidence proved he had nothing to do with her death. The district attorney decided not to charge him.
More years went by. Investigations revealed new details, and with that came more suspicions.
Investigators say they did not find any sign of forced entry. No footprints in the snow outside the home, either.
A paintbrush from her mother’s hobby kit was used to tighten the rope that choked JonBenet, according to investigators. And the alleged ransom letter came from a notepad inside the house and made reference to little-known details about the family’s past finances.
Though the Ramseys were never named as suspects, they were the focus of the grand jury, which first convened in September 1998.
And as time marches on, the outcome of the investigation is almost where it started — no arrests and no convictions.
And the years seem to stand still for the little girl. To many, she’s still the 6-year-old who paraded across television screens nationwide.
But she would have turned 23 this year.