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A World of Possibilities

Peter Boyles does some fast talking regarding his on-air speculation about the Emily Johnson murder.

For Boyles, the rise of such questions "didn't have anything to do with her being white and him being black. I don't give a shit about that. But to find out that she worked at Shotgun's and Diamond Cabaret, which isn't like working at regular restaurants, well...That doesn't make her a bad person, but they're not jobs that everybody does." And then there was Johnson's association with Davis, a nightclub employee with a nasty past who couldn't have looked guiltier if he'd tried; he even told police that if he had attacked Johnson (something he didn't remember doing) "there may be someone else inside me." So how can anyone blame Boyles (or the dailies and the town's TV stations) for concentrating on him in the beginning? "The police are the ones who called him a prime suspect," Boyles says. "The police. Not Pete Boyles." In fact, as word about unknown youths seen running from Johnson's crashed Lexus dribbled out, Boyles says he began to believe that Davis might not have been the killer -- and he verbalized his ideas into his microphone, for everyone and his mother to hear. Some of his callers felt otherwise, but he wasn't responsible for what they thought. Regarding Davis's innocence, he believes, he was ahead of the curve.

Not that Boyles exactly cracked the case. Instead, he spent a great deal of time discussing the significance of some burritos that were found in Johnson's house and the presence of her dog, Cassius, in the garage ("We broke those stories," he boasts). Likewise, he concocted, or repeated, a slew of scenarios that might have taken place -- not just the white-supremacists notion, but the drug-deal-gone-bad prospect and many more. Not once, however, did he argue that one of them was the guaranteed answer to the enigma. All of them were simply possibilities.

Such distinctions don't sway Hudson. "Anything's possible," he says. "It's possible a UFO could have come down, and aliens did it. So at what point are you going to quit tarnishing the memory of this woman based on insinuation, rumors and innuendo and show a little more responsibility than this?

"I think there's got to be a line drawn in terms of somebody who's been murdered and their reputation and their personal life," Hudson argues. "And we have to look at what that says about us as a community. Are we going to allow people like Peter Boyles to define us? Are we going to raise legitimate speculations, or are we just going to play junior detective? Because that's what he was doing. Peter struck paydirt with JonBenét Ramsey, and he saw this as a way to get back on the national shows."

Ooof! Bringing up JonBenét hits Boyles where he lives. The cover story in the February Brill's Content, a media watchdog mag, is "JonBenét Inc.," a sometimes caustic piece by journalist Katherine Rosman about "local media people cashing in on the ravenous appetite of national news outlets for a story that had only one problem: There was never any real news." And whaddya know: Boyles (along with Charlie Brennan, reformed and apologetic former tabloid pit bull Jeffrey Shapiro and the Post's Chuck Green, among others) is one of the major players! In the article, Rosman, who hyped her effort to Paula Zahn on the Fox News Channel on January 13 in the midst of the latest round of Boyles-bashing, writes that the host's ratings jumped from a 4.9 audience share in the fall of 1996, just before JonBenét died, to a 7.1 share a year later, and shows how an "Open Letter to John & Patsy Ramsey," which Boyles paid to print in the Boulder Daily Camera in August 1997, led directly to interviews on Dateline NBC, Rivera Live and Good Morning America.

By now, the JonBenét train is running out of steam: Boyles says he probably has done no more than five shows on the topic since a Boulder grand jury declined to indict anyone for the girl's murder last year, "although I'm sure we'll do something with the movie [Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, slated to air on CBS beginning in late February]. We can't pass that by."

Nor could he slough off the arrests in the Emily Johnson murder, which he thought might become Colorado's next made-for-the-cable-news-networks extravaganza. More than once in reciting the developments of January 11, he used the loaded descriptive "Columbine-esque," and days later, when it was clear that the national media wasn't going to jump all over the story, he continued to talk about Columbine assassins Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the same breath as the three teens suspected of involvement in Johnson's death.

That we know who the juvenile suspects are is another thing that ticks off Hudson. Police at the January 11 news conference refused to release their names owing to their ages and kept mum about other details for fear of endangering the ongoing investigation, but while the News and local TV and radio stations (even KHOW) initially played by those rules, a January 12 Post article by journalist Mike McPhee included the boys' names and a chronology of the killing that was jam-packed with particulars -- in short, a crackerjack bit of crime reportage that left McPhee's competitors snacking on his dust. Predictably, other media outlets took his achievement as permission to circulate the names as well.

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