JonBenet Ramsey: CNN Revisits the Coldest Case — Again

At least one cable channel is betting that the glut of JonBenét Ramsey specials three months ago hasn't exhausted the public's fascination with one of the nation's most infamous unsolved homicides. On Tuesday evening (7 p.m. locally), CNN will air The Murder of JonBenét, yet another exploration into the 1996 death of the six-year-old in her Boulder home — but unlike most of its predecessors, this "special report"has the opportunity to build on fresh news about the case.

December 26 will mark twenty years since Patsy Ramsey called 911 to report a "kidnapping" of her daughter and the discovery of a bizarre ransom note. The majority of networks jumped the gun on their anniversary specials in order to load up sweeps numbers in September. But most of those extravaganzas seemed to be an excuse to re-air a lot of archival footage and hype "exclusive" but less than illuminating interviews with family members. The only one that broke new ground, a CBS docuseries that did some elaborate restaging of the crime and theorized that JonBenét's nine-year-old brother, Burke. might have been involved, left behind a slew of questions and threats of legal action against the network by Burke's attorney.

Other than CBS, most of the shows dealt glancingly, if at all, with the most substantive bit of news to emerge about the case in the past decade or so — the revelation, first reported by the Boulder Daily Camera in 2013, that a grand jury had sought to indict John and Patsy Ramsey for felony child abuse in the death of their daughter, only to have the indictment nixed (and hushed up) by then-DA Alex Hunter. And all of them aired too soon to deal with the recent bombshell analysis of DNA evidence (by Charlie Brennan of the Camera and Kevin Vaughan of 9News) indicating that minute traces of DNA found on JonBenét's underwear — which another district attorney had represented to be evidence of an intruder and reason to exonerate the Ramseys — actually contain genetic markers from two unknown sources and may have no connection to her death at all.

Tonight's CNN report might at least deal with these developments in some fashion. Judging from the trailers and other material online, it appears they had sit-downs with Brennan and current Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett — as well as John Ramsey, who vowed that his appearance on Dr. Phil a few weeks ago would be his last interview. Will this be the stuff of more lawsuits, new theories, maybe some actual news about the case? Will it be the first step in persuading Garnett or a judge to release the rest of the grand jury materials regarding a possible indictment that have now been suppressed for seventeen years?

As they used to say after the old Batman and Flash Gordon serials: Stay tuned.
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast