The Truth Hurts

A roundup of the civil cases surrounding the Ramseys.

Wolf's suit was filed a year ago in Atlanta, and the Ramseys' motion for dismissal was rejected in February by Judge Julie Carnes. Experts say that simply expressing a view that a particular person might be a killer would generally be protected as opinion. But Hoffman says he successfully argued in court that John Ramsey had done more than that: He implied his opinion was based on facts that he did not go on to disclose, which made his comment actionable. Hoffman expects to begin deposing witnesses in June.

"It will be the first time the Ramseys will appear for questioning where they don't control the venue and the circumstances, where they can't get up and leave," says Hoffman.

"John Ramsey correctly and accurately stated Chris Wolf was viewed as a suspect," Wood says. "Chris Wolf has never been cleared that I'm aware of."

The Marquess of Boulder: Former police detective Steve Thomas.
John Johnston
The Marquess of Boulder: Former police detective Steve Thomas.

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Read more Westword coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey case

He adds, "I don't think Darnay Hoffman is going to be around much longer in that case after a period of discovery and a motion for summary judgment is filed. I don't have any professional respect for Darnay Hoffman as a lawyer."

Because Wolf has made public statements about the Ramsey case in the past, he is a limited public figure, says Hoffman. This means he has to "prove malice, that the person knowingly lied about something." Hoffman intends to prove that Patsy Ramsey wrote the ransom note, and he says he has the experts to do it. If he succeeds, then "functionally, we will have proven to a jury that everything out of her mouth when she talked about the case was a lie."

Hoffman is also handling another lawsuit for Linda Hoffmann-Pugh, filed in August 2000, contesting a Colorado law that says witnesses cannot reveal anything they have said in front of a grand jury. According to Hoffman, since the Ramsey grand jury neither returned an indictment nor wrote a report, the lips of dozens of witnesses are effectively sealed -- and he thinks this was the deliberate intention of Alex Hunter; he believes Hunter never wanted to prosecute the Ramseys.

Hoffmann-Pugh wants to write her own book about the case. In addition to freeing her to do this, a victory in court could "open a floodgate of testimony and information from the grand jury witnesses," says Hoffman. "That could have a devastating effect on the fiction that the grand jury did not have enough evidence to bring an indictment."

Another lawsuit being intensely watched is that of Linda Arndt, one of the first Boulder cops at the Ramsey house the morning after the murder. The police have been savagely attacked in the press for their handling of the crime scene. Critics say they allowed visitors to come and go and evidence to be contaminated. Arndt bore much of the criticism. She was also accused of becoming too close to Patsy Ramsey. Arndt was dropped from the case after five months; she resigned from the police department in March 1999. Later that year, she appeared on Good Morning America, stating enigmatically that when John Ramsey discovered JonBenét's body, she'd felt a moment of fear and thought about her gun: "I didn't know if we'd all be alive when people showed up," she said.

Arndt is suing former police chief Tom Koby, current chief Mark Beckner and the Boulder police department. She says that she was not allowed to speak out in her own defense when subjected to the barrage of criticism and that this violated her First Amendment rights. Her case has been scheduled for a seven-day trial beginning May 29 and may cast some illumination on the vexed relationships within the police department and between police and prosecutors. U.S. District Judge William Downes has set May 23 as the deadline for any settlement.

In the first year after the murder, another officer, Larry Mason, threatened to sue the City of Boulder. He was suspected of leaking information to the press and removed from the investigation early on. A police investigation cleared him, and he settled the case for $10,000.

The suit against Steve Thomas is hardly the Ramseys' first. In December 1999, after a grand jury had failed to indict them, the Ramseys filed a $25 million suit against the Star, a tabloid newspaper that reported that JonBenét's brother Burke, age nine at the time of the murder, was a suspect. The Star attorney vowed to cross-examine the Ramseys about the murder. Instead, the case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

"One down and many to go," said Wood, who went on to sue the Globe, the New York Post and Time Warner. The Globe, too, settled. The other two cases are ongoing. In March of this year, the New York Post asked for all of the files on the Ramsey case. Current Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan resisted; she said providing these files would place an undue burden on her office.

Those hoping for revelations from the ongoing suits should perhaps be reminded of another case, filed in 1998 by photographer Stephen Thomas Miles. Represented by Boulder attorney Lee Hill, Miles sued the National Enquirer and John Ramsey for an article in which he was called a sex offender and a pedophile and in which Ramsey seemed to suggest that he was the murderer. Amid much public speculation and curiosity, Ramsey gave a deposition. It was immediately sealed. Two months later, Miles's case against Ramsey dissolved; a month after that, the rest of the suit -- against the National Enquirer -- was also thrown out. Ramsey's deposition was unsealed in February 2000. It gave away nothing.

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