The “news” that the JonBenet Ramsey grand jury voted to indict her parents in 1999 might be the worst-kept secret for all who followed the Ramsey case at its height.
And while the Daily Camera’s “Secrets of the JonBenet Ramsey Grand Jury” series is sure to thrust a new spotlight into the Dec. 25, 1996 death of the 6-year-old beauty pageant queen, it’s important to remember a thorough analysis of the evidence was done by a U.S. district judge in the early 2000s.
In her 2003 ruling, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes remarked on the grand jury proceedings: “The District Attorney, and all other prosecutors involved in the proceedings believed at that time there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any person, including defendants in connection with the murder.”
Read Release of JonBenet grand jury indictments fail to move case forward
Below are heavy excerpts and direct paragraphs reprinted from an article I wrote in 2003 that has been long purged from the excellent Ramsey archives once preserved by the Daily Times-Call.
The 93-page ruling issued by Carnes was the first real judicial analysis of evidence in the JonBenet Ramsey case made available to the public.
Although Carnes’ ruling was based on a civil suit, it painstakingly examined evidence gathered by police and pointed out numerous shortcomings in the investigation.
The case landed in Carnes’ lap in Atlanta in March 2001, when Boulder freelance journalist Chris Wolf sued John and Patsy Ramsey after Wolf was mentioned as a possible suspect in the Ramseys’ book, “The Death of Innocence,” during media interviews promoting the book and in profiles prepared by the Ramseys’ private investigators.
Represented by attorney Darnay Hoffman, Wolf claimed that Patsy Ramsey killed her 6-year-old daughter on Dec. 25, 1996, and was naming other suspects to shift attention away from her.
That claim became paramount in the case, because it meant to win the lawsuit, Wolf would have to prove that Patsy Ramsey was involved in her daughter’s death.
- Unknown pubic hair
- Bondage devices
- Duct tape
- Animal hair
- Boot print
- Stun gun mark
- Unknown Male DNA
Carnes began her ruling outlining the timeline of the crime, which had been reported repeatedly in the media, sometimes accurately and sometimes not.
On Dec. 25, 1996, John and Pasty Ramsey attended, with their children JonBenet and Burke, a Christmas party at the home of family friends Fleet and Priscilla White. The children fell asleep in the car on the way home and were taken to bed. The family planned to wake up early the next day because they were going to fly to Michigan for a family vacation.
According to John and Patsy Ramsey, they were never awakened in the night, although a neighbor told police she heard a scream in the early morning of Dec. 26.
Carnes ruled that it was very plausible the neighbor could have heard the scream without it being heard in the house.
“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, in the defendant’s bedroom,” Carnes wrote in her ruling.
In his lawsuit, Wolf contends that Patsy Ramsey never went to sleep on the night of Dec. 25, based on the fact she was wearing the same clothing the next day
Relying on theories introduced by former Boulder police Detective Steve Thomas, Wolf contends Patsy Ramsey became upset that her daughter wet the bed and in a fit of rage slammed her head against a hard surface.
The autopsy report states that JonBenet suffered a severe blow to her head shortly before or around the time of her murder.
Wolf surmises that Patsy Ramsey then staged a crime scene to make it look like an intruder killed JonBenet.
“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 by a light blanket.
According to Carnes, the slipknots and garrote were both sophisticated bondage devices designed to give control to the user.
“Evidence from these devices suggests they were made by someone with expertise using rope and cords, which … could not be found or ‘sourced’ within defendants’ home,” Carnes wrote.
Carnes said the black duct tape also was not “sourced” to the defendants.
Animal hair, alleged to be from a beaver, was found on the duct tape. Carnes wrote that nothing in the Ramsey home was found matching the hair.
Other dark animal hairs were found on JonBenet’s hands that matched nothing in the Ramsey home, Carnes wrote.
Other evidence pointing to an intruder includes a shoeprint of a “HI-TEC” boot imprinted in mold on the basement floor and a palm print in the wine cellar.
Police also found a baseball bat not owned by the Ramseys on the north side of the house with fiber on it consistent with fibers found in the carpet in the basement where JonBenet’s body was found.
Carnes wrote that other evidence included a rope found in a brown paper sack in the guest bedroom of the Ramsey home.
A forensic pathologist hired by the Ramseys concluded that the injuries to the right side of JonBenet Ramsey’s face were consistent with injuries sustained from a stun gun.
Carnes also noted that an autopsy report revealed injury to JonBenet’s genitalia suggesting she was sexually assaulted shortly before her death. Unknown male DNA was found under JonBenet’s fingernails and in her underwear.
“Finally, a Caucasian ‘pubic or auxiliary’ hair was found on the blanket covering JonBenet’s body,” the judge wrote. “The hair does not match that of any Ramsey and has not been sourced.”
The judge wrote that Detective Lou Smit said JonBenet was a “pedophile’s dream come true.”
She wrote that JonBenet received considerable attention as “Little Miss Colorado” and several beauty pageants she participated in.
On Dec. 6, 1996, she was in the Parade of Lights, where thousands of people attended, the judge noted.
“In addition, on Dec. 25, 1996, while playing at the home of a neighborhood friend, JonBenet told her friend’s mother that ‘Santa Claus’ was going to pay her a ‘special’ visit after Christmas and that it was a secret,” the judge wrote. “The person who may have said this to JonBenet has never been identified.”
Carnes also wrote at length criticizing media reports that reported on a lack of snowy footprints and that the window well into the basement wasn’t accessible.
“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 also said experiments done by investigators proved an adult could enter the basement through the window well.
READ IF NOT PATSY, THEN WHO?
In her ruling, Carnes was critical of the Boulder Police Department, saying that officers who responded to the kidnapping call seriously compromised the crime scene.
“Contrary to normal protocol, the police did not seal off the defendants’ home, with the sole exception being the interior of JonBenet’s bedroom,” Carnes wrote. “In other words, any person in the Ramsey home could, and often did, move freely throughout the home.”
She noted that at the time of JonBenet’s murder, Boulder police had limited experience in conducting murder investigations. She wrote that the man in charge, Cmdr. Jon Eller, had never conducted a murder investigation before.
“One lead detective assigned to the case, Steven Thomas, had no prior experience with a murder investigation and had previously served as an undercover narcotics officer,” Carnes wrote. “Finally the officer who took charge of the investigation in October 1997, Mark Beckner, also had limited homicide experience.”
The next year, Beckner became chief of police.
Carnes wrote that police made many mistakes during the course of the investigation, including the department’s failure to interview Patsy and John Ramsey separately on the day JonBenet’s body was found.
She said police did interview the Ramseys together several times in the ensuing days and began to focus their investigation on the parents as the main suspects.
Carnes said it was also clear that investigators were focusing only on the Ramseys, and no other suspects, from the beginning.
“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 with police,” Carnes wrote.
The judge said that despite widespread criticism that the Ramseys failed to cooperate with police, John and Patsy Ramsey were actually very cooperative.
“During the course of the investigation, defendants signed over one hundred releases for information requested by the police and provided all evidence and information requested by the police,” Carnes wrote.
According to Carnes, the Ramseys gave hair, including pubic hair and DNA samples to the police and agreed to be interviewed separately three different times.
Carnes also wrote that Smit, a retired detective hired on by District Attorney Alex Hunter to help with the case, became frustrated with Boulder police.
“He 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 defendants as the culprits,” Carnes wrote.
She said two other men, sheriff’s Detective Steve Ainsworth and Assistant District Attorney Trip DeMuth, who also believed evidence pointed toward an intruder as the killer, were also soon removed from the case.
In the summer of 1998, Hunter convened a grand jury to investigate the murder. On Oct. 13, 1999, the grand jury was discharged and no indictment was issues.
Carnes ruling was seen as a boon for the Ramseys, but it was nothing compared to the reaction to a statement Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan released shortly after saying she agreed with Carnes’ statement.
Keenan said Carnes dropped a bombshell when she ruled that evidence in the JonBenet Ramsey case suggests that an intruder, rather than Patsy Ramsey, killed JonBenet.
Ramsey attorney Lin Wood called it a day of vindication for his clients and said that the days of people accusing them of murder should end.
Beckner said he believed Keenan’s statements may be viewed as criticism against his department.
He also said he was surprised that Keenan would make her personal beliefs about the case public.
Several prosecutors in the district attorney’s office said they wondered after Keenan’s statement and the judge’s ruling if the Ramseys could ever be prosecuted, even if there was evidence pointing to their guilt.
Judge look at evidence against other suspects in JonBenet’s death