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Send in the Clowns

The JonBenét circus continues, but the center ring remains empty.

The circus is back in town, transforming Boulder into a bigtop stuffed with big-time media stars. They'll be in the center ring, fighting for interviews and airtime, until Boulder's grand jury finally disbands on October 20, thirteen months after it began investigating the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. The grand jurors may even issue an indictment before they pull their disappearing act.

But in the meantime, there's been a never- ending side-show of arrests, indictments and sordid accusations. Over the past 33 months, the justice system has been stuffing a funny car full of clowns only peripherally involved with the Ramsey case. And next Monday, a fourteenth passenger may be taken for a ride.

On October 18, Craig Lewis, the news editor of the Globe, will have another day in court. That's when the ten-day restraining order handed down by buttinsky U.S. District Judge Walker Miller expires and a Jefferson County grand jury can again consider indicting Lewis, not just for bribery, but also extortion. His alleged crimes? Trying to buy a copy of the Ramsey ransom note in the spring of 1997 (a document that since has received more public scrutiny than Pamela Anderson Lee's breasts), as well as attempting to strong-arm then-Boulder police officer Steve Thomas into an interview. If Lewis's attorney does not succeed in convincing the court that the Colorado bribery statute is unconstitutional -- or at least not applicable to an editor exercising his First Amendment rights, even if he's doing so for a supermarket tabloid -- Lewis could be charged criminally. Not, however, for murder. So far, no one has suggested that Craig Lewis killed JonBenét.

Details


Previous Westword articles

"The Spin Crowd,"
October 1, 1998
By Patricia Calhoun

"The Mom Squad,"
September 10, 1998
For this group of online sleuths, death makes a holiday. By Chris LaMorte

"The Unusual Suspect,"
February 19, 1998
Does this look like JonBenét's killer to you?
By Steve Jackson

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And there are other bozos in the same boat.

Shawn Smith thought he was aiding the cops -- or so he said -- when the hapless photo-lab technician agreed to help a buddy get his hands on copies of JonBenét autopsy photos made at his lab (high-tech security setup courtesy of the Boulder Police Department). As thanks for his efforts, Smith received $200 from the former sheriff's deputy turned private eye who sent the pictures to the Globe and, ultimately, a record for obstructing government operations and false reporting. Smith was later popped again, this time for indecent exposure after he passed out naked beside a popular Boulder County running path. Still, so far no one has suggested that Shawn Smith killed JonBenét.

Smith's partner in grime was Brett Sawyer, a former deputy with the Boulder County sheriff's office. In February 1997 Sawyer pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of government operations and was sentenced to 64 hours of community service, as well as writing a letter of apology to the Ramseys. "When I learned of the sheriff's investigation," Sawyer wrote Westword a year later, "I immediately came forth to disclose that in obtaining the photographs, there had been no crime committed. Silly me -- I expected [Sheriff] George Epp and [District Attorney] Alex Hunter to acknowledge the absence of a criminal act and return to more mundane pursuits, such as solving the real crime: JonBenét Ramsey's murder. Alas, it was not to be. Someone needed hanging, and I was convenient gallows ballast." Still, so far no one has suggested that Brett Sawyer killed JonBenét.

More material considered suitable for hanging -- or at least jailing -- by Boulder authorities was J.T. Colfax, a driver for local mortuaries who'd already gotten in trouble for taking photographs of corpses. But his big break came when he snatched a page with JonBenét's name on it from the log book at the Boulder County morgue and then sent a few burning papers through the mail slot at the Ramseys' Boulder home. After pleading guilty to attempted first-degree arson, Colfax was sentenced to two years in the Boulder County Jail, an ideal set for an erstwhile performance artists. Colfax was recently released from jail, his time served before the grand jury was even close to serving up an indictment. And while a few people have suggested that J.T. Colfax might have killed JonBenét, he worked harder to solve the case from inside the jail than many of those outside.

Randy Simons, another shutterbug, did a studio shoot of pageant princess JonBenét in June 1996; after her murder, he sold the glamour shots for a paltry $7,500. His only motivation, he said at the time, was gaining exposure that would lead to the arrest of her killer. Instead, Simons himself was overexposed last October and held by police after they caught him walking naked down the streets of his hometown of Genoa, Colorado. Still, so far no one has suggested that Randy Simons killed JonBenét.

(Photography is a hazardous occupation, at least when connected to the Ramsey case: Boulder photographer Stephen Miles, who was arrested for possessing photographs of naked teenage boys in the late Eighties, was labeled as John Ramsey's major suspect in the October 21, 1997, National Enquirer -- a story that landed the tabloid a libel suit.)

And then, of course, there was Jay Elowsky, owner of Pasta Jay's restaurant and a friend of the Ramseys who put John and Patsy up in the early days after JonBenét's murder. In July 1997, Elowsky pled guilty to misdemeanor menacing: He'd brandished a baseball bat at two men he thought were reporters on Patsy's tail but who turned out to be mild-mannered engineers. Had the hapless victims actually been reporters, no jury in the land would have convicted Elowsky.

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