A prominent Boulder couple, former close friends of John and Patsy Ramsey, have filed a lawsuit seeking the full release of long-suppressed documents drafted by a grand jury investigating the 1996 murder of the Ramseys' six-year-old daughter, JonBenet. Last fall a judge released four redacted pages from eighteen pages of "official action" documents prepared by the grand jury, indicating that the panel had sought to indict JonBenet's parents for felony child abuse resulting in death and on an accessory charge -- but Fleet and Priscilla White contend that the remaining documents may also contain information the public is entitled to know.
"If Colorado law requires the disclosure of any information related to the grand jury's work, we want it out there," White says. "This isn't some minor matter. It's the JonBenet Ramsey homicide."
This latest quest to shed some light on Boulder's most infamous unsolved murder comes more than seventeen years after the body of JonBenet, who'd been garrotted and bludgeoned, was found in the basement of her family home the morning after Christmas. After more than a year of grand-jury sessions, then-District Attorney Alex Hunter discharged the panel in 1999, saying there was insufficient evidence to produce an indictment. In 2008, Hunter's successor, Mary Lacy, publicly exonerated John and Patsy Ramsey of any involvement in their daughter's death, based largely on the absence of "touch DNA" linking them to the crime.
Last fall's release of documents proving that the grand jury had, in fact, sought to indict the parents for felony child abuse was the result of a court action brought by Boulder Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan. The documents confirmed what Brennan had already reported from other sources -- that the grand jury foreman had actually signed an indictment, but Hunter refused to approve it because he didn't believe he had enough evidence to produce a conviction at trial.
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However, Judge Robert Lowenbach ruled that Brennan and the public are entitled to view only a small portion of the documents submitted by the DA's office for the judge's inspection, consisting of the general language of the charges being sought (and no specifics of the actions prompting those charges). White, who was John Ramsey's sailing buddy before a highly publicized falling out shortly after JonBenet's death, believes the full record of official actions taken by the grand jury, including possibly other charges considered or rejected, should be released.
"We can only assume that there's other stuff in there that one would find in a criminal indictment," he says. "[Boulder District Attorney Stan] Garnett gave all this material to the court. Why would he give them anything that isn't relevant to an indictment?"
The Whites' complaint, filed earlier this week, cites a strong precedent for the full release of information detailed in a grand jury indictment. In 2007, regarding a battle over access to the extensive indictment of Aaron Thompson in the death of his daughter Aarone, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that state law "requires the indictment to be released for public inspection in its entirety."
Whether that precedent applies to an indictment that prosecutors declined to endorse is another issue. As they say in the string section, stay tuned.