The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

Enquirer reporters John South and David Wright started their story: "John and Patsy Ramsey expect to be arrested for the murder of their daughter, but they already have their defense strategy in place -- pointing at a man they'll claim is the intruder who killed JonBenét. 'John and Patsy will claim that the real killer is a neighbor, Stephen Miles, who was once arrested and accused of a sex offense against a minor,' a source close to the couple revealed."

Frightened and angry, Miles recalled the lawyer Ginsberg had introduced him to and called Hill. In February 1998, Hill filed a defamation suit against the National Enquirer and John Ramsey.

There were a number of issues to the case, the most important being whether the Boulder Police Department had ever considered Miles, who had never shown any interest in females of any age, a suspect. According to Miles, Miles's mother, Hill and Yoo, Boulder detective Jane Harmer told them that Miles was never a "real suspect." And that, Hill planned to take to the bank.

Lee Hill
Lee Hill
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.

The lawsuit allowed him to question John Ramsey in an October 1998 deposition that lasted five hours -- the only time Ramsey has been forced to answer questions under oath. Hill was prohibited from asking direct questions about the murder until after a grand jury had decided whether to hand down an indictment, but he figured he would get a second chance when that occurred. Because of the grand jury proceedings, the deposition was sealed.

Hill was stunned when the National Enquirer's lawyers filed a motion to have the case dismissed -- and when he discovered that at the very end of the file was a sworn affidavit from Harmer stating that Miles had indeed been a suspect. He immediately filed a notification to interview Harmer under oath; the Boulder police department fought the deposition. The police lost that appeal but while they stalled, District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer ruled on the tabloid's motion and dismissed the case.

Hill couldn't believe it. He had witnesses who'd heard Harmer tell him just the opposite. What's more, this meant that the police were now saying that a rather harmless gay photographer was the only "official" suspect who had ever been named publicly by the police. Not John Ramsey. Not Patsy Ramsey. Not any of their family friends who had acted suspiciously. Just Stephen Miles.

In a case filled with strange bedfellows, the Boulder Police Department's climbing into the sack with the National Enquirer seemed incredible. It had certainly cost Hill thousands of dollars, but more than that it was unfair to Miles, who'd done nothing to deserve being nationally vilified so a magazine could make money. But when Hill tried to get an answer from Chief Mark Beckner or Detective Harmer, he was referred to the department's legal counsel. Neither Harmer nor Beckner returned Westword's phone calls.

When the grand jury disbanded in October 1999 without handing down an indictment, the seal on Ramsey deposition was lifted. No one, however, asked to look at it.

Hill was at breakfast in November 1999 with Nile Southern, the son of eclectic director and writer Terry Southern of Easy Rider and Dr. Strangelove fame, who needed help collecting royalties owed to his late father's estate, when he was approached by Barrie Hartman, the managing editor of the Boulder Daily Camera. Hartman suggested that they get together for lunch, an event that, as so often happened in Boulder, included a conversation about the Ramsey case.

As a former prosecutor, Hill couldn't understand why no one seemed interested in the deposition -- if for no other reason than to compare what John Ramsey had told him to what he had told the police.

The editor agreed that it didn't seem right. Later that day, he called DA Hunter to ask about the deposition and was told that Hunter thought the police would have looked at it. Hartman told Hill he'd called Beckner, who had replied that they figured John Ramsey was "a liar," so there was no need.

Hartman asked if Hill would be willing to show the deposition to a reporter. With the seal lifted, Hill didn't see why not. It was only after that reporter asked Beckner why the police hadn't looked at the deposition that Hill suddenly got a telephone call from Deputy District Attorney Bill Wise, who had miraculously developed an interest.

When the story broke, other members of the media were suddenly interested, too. A reporter from the Fox Network interviewed Hill, who openly wondered why, after spending $2 million on the case, the Boulder police had not bothered to pick up a free, five-hour interview with one of the prime targets of their investigation.

A thousand miles away, a 37-year-old woman saw the interview. She talked to her therapist, who did a little Internet research on Hill, and together they agreed that he could be trusted with the woman's secret.

The woman called Hill. "I think I have information that may be relevant to the Ramsey case," she said.

Hill's response was to put her on hold and go make a pot of coffee. "Great," he said to Yoo. "Now I got someone who wants to talk to me about the Ramsey case." He hoped the woman would hang up before he got back, but she was still there when he picked up the phone five minutes later.

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