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.

Hunter referred to John Ramsey as "Big John." According to Thomas, the two prosecutors on the case, DeMuth and Hofstrom, spoke more than once of "building trust" with the Ramseys. When the CBI asked in January for another sample of Patsy Ramsey's handwriting, Hofstrom had her come to his home and write the sample at his kitchen table.

Eventually, Hunter brought in highly respected Colorado Springs investigator Lou Smit to work on the case. Within 72 hours of coming on board, Smit said he didn't think the Ramseys were guilty.

As police and DA investigators argued endlessly about footprints in the snow or their absence, unidentified palm prints, scuff marks, spiderwebs that may or may not have been disturbed, a Hi-Tech boot print and unidentifiable DNA, police were directed by Hunter's office to interview all friends, neighbors and business associates of the Ramseys; and identify everyone present at JonBenét's beauty pageants and examine every burglary occurring in Boulder -- both before and after the murder -- for a sexual component. And while they were doing it, they were to establish a "closer rapport" with the Ramseys.

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.

Much of the evidence the Boulder detectives managed to collect was contravened, negated or reinterpreted by the district attorneys or their experts. When the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, having analyzed the tape of Patsy's 911 call, said that the voice of the Ramseys' nine-year-old son, Burke, could be heard (according to the Ramseys, their son had been asleep at that time), prosecutor Hofstrom sent the tape to Los Alamos, where technicians heard the meaningless phrase "I scream at you."

When police found that Don Foster, a linguistics expert from Vassar who had helped bring the Unabomber to justice, was willing to state that the handwriting on the ransom note was Patsy's, prosecutors dismissed Foster as unreliable. They had some cause: Before personally examining the note or any of the evidence, Foster had corresponded over the Internet with one of the hundreds of anonymous Ramsey junkies, and guessed - incorrectly -- that his correspondent might be John Ramsey's oldest son, John Andrew; Foster had also written a letter to Patsy at that time indicating he thought she was innocent. Thomas contends that a good prosecutor could have dealt with these problems in court, particularly since Foster's original opinion proved, if anything, that he was not prejudiced against Patsy before seeing the note.

Although a prosecutor must test evidence for weakness, Thomas says Hunter's activities went far beyond that. Ultimately, he believes, the DA usurped the role of a jury. "The DA's office thinks they have this crystal ball into what a...jury will do at some point in the future, and therefore they don't have to make the case," Thomas argued on Larry King Live.

When the DA finally made plans for a grand jury -- almost two years after police had suggested one -- the detectives who actually worked the case were told their presence wasn't needed. A year ago this week, the grand jury finished its work without indicting anyone for the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.Patsy Ramsey: ...He was headed down a wrong path. He was at the point of no return. And his ego is the size of a barn, and he can't put it aside to try to find the murderer of this child.

John Ramsey: He's a profiteer. He's the only person from inside the system who has written a book, who has gone on national television. It's disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.

--Larry King Live

The frustrations of the Ramsey case took a serious toll on Steve Thomas. On a May morning, he found a mutilated cat outside his house; his garden hose had been sliced and his wife's flower garden wrecked. Newly married at the beginning of the investigation, he rarely saw his wife. When his father was rushed to a Denver hospital with heart failure, Thomas was in Atlanta, questioning associates of the Ramseys; instead of rushing back, he continued his work. (His father recovered.)

In early 1998, Thomas, suffering from lethargy, headaches, weight loss and back pain, was diagnosed as having lymphatic thyroiditis. Thyroid problems had contributed to his mother's death.

On August 6, 1998, Thomas wrote a long letter of resignation to Boulder's new police chief, Mark Beckner. "What I witnessed for two years of my life was so fundamentally flawed, it reduced me to tears," he said. "I cannot continue to sanction by silence what has occurred in this case."

Thomas's letter sparked a brief flurry of concern about the operations of the Boulder County District Attorney's Office. But the DA's office struck back, noting that the Ramsey case was Thomas's first murder investigation, and labeling him a rookie cop who had gotten in over his head and whose own failure had made him bitter and vengeful.

Many of Thomas's colleagues would disagree with this depiction. "He's one hell of an investigator and a good cop," says Jim Kolar, now working in Telluride.

"The best police officer I have ever worked with," says Greg Idler, who's also left the BPD. "Excellent in investigations and at interviewing. Steve never let anything die; he always worked it to the end. And he's an expert when it came to deceptive responses from suspects. Steve has never been one to take the easy or the most popular way. He's the one who wants to get justice."

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