JonBenet Ramsey evidence won't be shared unless case is filed, DA says
Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett is one of the most open and accessible elected officials in the state -- but in the matter of newly released true bills accusing John and Patsy Ramsey of culpability in the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, their daughter, he's keeping mum, with his only public statement an op-ed in which he explains that his office won't share any evidence related to the shocking crime unless a case is filed -- something that seems unlikelier with each passing year. Get details and see documents below.
As we reported on Friday, Boulder Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan, working with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a lawsuit asking for access to indictments of the Ramseys delivered by a 1999 grand jury but not acted upon by Alex Hunter, the Boulder DA at the time.
A Ramsey family photo.
Garnett responded to the suit with a court filing that didn't outright refuse to release the documents, but stated that they would be made public only if a judge authorized their release. The legal response is on view below in its entirety, but here's an excerpt:
In essence, our position is that because the grand jury is supervised by the court, and violations of grand jury secrecy are punishable by the contempt powers of the court, the court must make the determination of whether, even under these unique circumstances, grand jury materials should be made available as you request. Be advised that this office will not object to you seeking court review of our decision before the appropriate judicial officer should you decide to do so.
Senior District Judge J. Robert Lowenbach subsequently okayed the release of the true bills, which accused John and Patsy (who died in 2006) of two crimes: child abuse resulting in death and acting as an accessory to the actual, and unknown, killer. We've included the bills as well, but here's the language on the accessory charge as it pertains to John:
On or about December 25, and December 26, 1996 in Boulder County, Coloraado, John Benett Ramsey did unlawfully, knowingly and feloniously render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of Murder in the First Degree and Child Abuse Resulting in Death.
The national media immediately seized on these incendiary charges and inundated Garnett's office with requests for comment, prompting public information officer Catherine Olguin to issue a statement intended to keep them at bay. It reads:
Many media outlets have contacted the office and are understandably interested in a statement or reaction from the Boulder District Attorney regarding the release of grand jury documents in the JonBenet Ramsey case. This case is a Boulder case and the District Attorney answers to his constituency: the people of Boulder County. Also, the issues surrounding the case are complex and nuanced and do not readily lend themselves to a short sound bite. For these reasons, the District Attorney has decided to issue a statement in the form of an op-ed piece, to be published in this Sunday's edition of the Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder's local newspaper. He will not be issuing any other statement prior to that publication.
In the Camera op-ed, Garnett expresses empathy for those who want a resolution to this matter, but makes it clear that indictments aren't in the immediate future. Continue for more about the Boulder DA's response to the JonBenet Ramsey true bills' release, including multiple documents.
Garnett begins his Daily Camera piece by noting that he's studied the JonBenet case closely and stressing that he has no allergy to prosecution, having tried 200-plus felony cases and fifteen homicides since 2009 -- figures that represent "more than three times the average number of cases tried annually in this judicial district in the twenty years prior to my taking office." He then decries media speculation in the matter based on limited information -- but offers little hope that additional data will be forthcoming. He writes:
Because no case has ever been brought against anyone in Ramsey, the community has had no resolution and the tabloid press has been free to speculate, sometimes recklessly, based on only parts of the evidence. There has been no public airing of all the evidence in open court, nor can there be, unless and until a case is filed, which has been an understandable frustration to the community.
That frustration will continue over the foreseeable future. Garnett points out that the statute of limitations for the counts stated in the true bills expired long ago and his associates doesn't believe there's enough evidence to file new accusations. Not that he's willing to open up the repository of collected material and let others reach their own conclusions. "My, or my staff's view of what the evidence in the Ramsey case proves will only be stated in open court if a case is ever filed," he allows. "In the meantime, everyone, including the Ramsey family, is entitled to the full presumption of innocence."
The bottom line from Garnett's perspective: "These documents mean that this grand jury believed there was 'probable cause' (a lower threshold standard of proof than 'beyond a reasonable doubt') based on the evidence they had heard, that the named defendants had committed the crimes listed. That they were not pursued within the statute of limitations means that the DAs with the authority to do so believed that the evidence did not rise to the necessary level to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a jury trial. I don't know if I would have made the same decision, but I know how difficult these decisions are."
Look below to see DA office response to the lawsuit seeking release of the grand jury indictments, followed by the true bills issued in the names of John and Patsy Ramsey.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our News archive: "JonBenet Indictments: Read counts accusing parents of child abuse resulting in death."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.