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Justice, Boulder Style

The county will soon have its first new DA in 28 years. But in order for justice to be done, former cop Steve Thomas thinks the office needs a complete overhaul.

On December 27, when police arrived to schedule interviews with the Ramseys, Bynum was again present. John Ramsey said little; the family doctor told police Patsy was too overwhelmed to see them. On December 28, prosecutor Pete Hofstrom informed the cops that there would be no Ramsey interviews because the Ramseys were leaving for Atlanta. The Ramseys had gone to the criminal justice center that day and given such non-testimonial evidence as fingerprints and blood and hair samples; Hofstrom suggested the police fax their questions to the family. On New Year's Day, the Ramseys appeared on CNN to proclaim their innocence.

Steve Thomas's theory about what happened in the Ramsey home is just that: a theory. But the facts he marshals do make a convincing, if circumstantial, case for Patsy's guilt. He believes JonBenét's death may have been accidental, the result of a bed-wetting incident during which her head was slammed against something hard. Police saw a box of pull-up diapers hanging halfway off a cabinet shelf outside the child's bedroom and a balled-up red turtleneck on the bathroom counter. Patsy had said JonBenét was put to bed in a red turtleneck; the body was found in a white shirt with a sequin star on the front. Under this scenario, the garrote, the bound hands and the placement of the body in the basement were essentially staging, intended to cover up the nature of JonBenét's death; the duct tape appeared to have been placed over her mouth after she died. Although it has been the subject of hot dispute, no one has determined whether JonBenét's death was caused by strangulation from the garrote or the massive blow to her head; either injury would have been fatal by itself.

The garrote was made with the broken handle of Patsy's paintbrush. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation tested red acrylic fibers found on the duct tape covering JonBenét's mouth and said they were a "likely match" for Patsy Ramsey's blazer. Beaver hairs were also found on the tape, but police were unable to obtain permission from the DA's office to get Patsy's fur coat and boots for testing.

He aims to plea: Current Boulder DA Alex 
Hunter.Steve Thomas, former cop, wrote the book on 
the Ramsey investigation.Steve Thomas is building a 
future outside law enforcement.
John Johnston
He aims to plea: Current Boulder DA Alex Hunter.Steve Thomas, former cop, wrote the book on the Ramsey investigation.Steve Thomas is building a future outside law enforcement.
He aims to plea: Current Boulder DA Alex Hunter.
He aims to plea: Current Boulder DA Alex Hunter.

There were no fingerprints on the ransom note, but the tablet on which it was written was Patsy's, and it bore her fingerprints. On the same tablet, there was also what appeared to be a practice note. Both parts were written with a Sharpie pen that was then replaced in its holder in the Ramsey kitchen. Many experts examined the note's handwriting and were unable to rule out Patsy as the author. At least one named her unequivocally.

The Ramseys have said that police were too quick to focus on them, ignoring the possibility that an intruder came into the house and killed their daughter. In the months and years following JonBenét's death, they have mentioned several possible suspects, including their housekeeper, Linda Hoffman-Pugh; a former nanny; a onetime Accent Graphics worker whom John Ramsey had fired; Fleet and Priscilla White (named after Fleet confronted John Ramsey in Atlanta and told him he should be cooperating with the investigation); a neighboring couple -- he palsied and she suffering from Alzheimer's disease; a local reporter whose girlfriend said he'd behaved strangely when he heard about the murder; Jay Elowsky, a Boulder restaurateur who allowed the Ramseys to stay in his house to avoid the press and, in his zeal to defend their privacy, once came out swinging a baseball bat; and -- most famously -- Bill McReynolds, a retired journalism professor who had attended Ramsey holiday functions dressed as Santa Claus. At the time of the murder, McReynolds was still recovering from the heart surgery he'd had four months earlier.

The DA's office pressed McReynolds relentlessly, even after police concluded he had not committed the crime. Two years after the murder, prosecutor Trip DeMuth had McReynolds tailed and sent police to retrieve some cord McReynolds had been seen using, Thomas says. Santa Bill was also grilled by Deputy District Attorney Mary Keenan. The experience "was the worst thing I've ever been through," says McReynolds, who has since left Colorado with his wife, Janet. "I thought about suicide."

Every suspect named by the Ramseys spoke willingly with police.


Boulder police had been skeptical about Alex Hunter's office long before the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. "Some of us felt you almost had to have a videotape of a murder, a full confession and an affidavit from the victim to get a homicide case to go forward in Boulder," Thomas wrote in his book. The skepticism proved justified in the Ramsey case. Boulder prosecutors refused to authorize routine warrants for such things as credit card receipts and phone and banking records. They allowed the Ramseys' lawyers to dictate the conditions under which evidence would be tested. They hemorrhaged confidential information to the Ramsey team and to journalists. According to both Thomas and Lawrence Schiller, Hunter himself developed a friendly relationship with tabloid reporter Jeff Shapiro, then working for the Globe. He gave the reporter inside information. And in an astonishing departure from normal ethical practice, he offered Shapiro access to the personnel file of John Eller, the commander overseeing the Ramsey case; Eller's zeal apparently troubled Hunter.

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