Send in the Clowns
The circus is back in town, transforming Boulder into a bigtop stuffed with big-time media stars. They'll be in the center ring, fighting for interviews and airtime, until Boulder's grand jury finally disbands on October 20, thirteen months after it began investigating the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. The grand jurors may even issue an indictment before they pull their disappearing act.
But in the meantime, there's been a never- ending side-show of arrests, indictments and sordid accusations. Over the past 33 months, the justice system has been stuffing a funny car full of clowns only peripherally involved with the Ramsey case. And next Monday, a fourteenth passenger may be taken for a ride.
On October 18, Craig Lewis, the news editor of the Globe, will have another day in court. That's when the ten-day restraining order handed down by buttinsky U.S. District Judge Walker Miller expires and a Jefferson County grand jury can again consider indicting Lewis, not just for bribery, but also extortion. His alleged crimes? Trying to buy a copy of the Ramsey ransom note in the spring of 1997 (a document that since has received more public scrutiny than Pamela Anderson Lee's breasts), as well as attempting to strong-arm then-Boulder police officer Steve Thomas into an interview. If Lewis's attorney does not succeed in convincing the court that the Colorado bribery statute is unconstitutional -- or at least not applicable to an editor exercising his First Amendment rights, even if he's doing so for a supermarket tabloid -- Lewis could be charged criminally. Not, however, for murder. So far, no one has suggested that Craig Lewis killed JonBenét.
And there are other bozos in the same boat.
Shawn Smith thought he was aiding the cops -- or so he said -- when the hapless photo-lab technician agreed to help a buddy get his hands on copies of JonBenét autopsy photos made at his lab (high-tech security setup courtesy of the Boulder Police Department). As thanks for his efforts, Smith received $200 from the former sheriff's deputy turned private eye who sent the pictures to the Globe and, ultimately, a record for obstructing government operations and false reporting. Smith was later popped again, this time for indecent exposure after he passed out naked beside a popular Boulder County running path. Still, so far no one has suggested that Shawn Smith killed JonBenét.
Smith's partner in grime was Brett Sawyer, a former deputy with the Boulder County sheriff's office. In February 1997 Sawyer pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of government operations and was sentenced to 64 hours of community service, as well as writing a letter of apology to the Ramseys. "When I learned of the sheriff's investigation," Sawyer wrote Westword a year later, "I immediately came forth to disclose that in obtaining the photographs, there had been no crime committed. Silly me -- I expected [Sheriff] George Epp and [District Attorney] Alex Hunter to acknowledge the absence of a criminal act and return to more mundane pursuits, such as solving the real crime: JonBenét Ramsey's murder. Alas, it was not to be. Someone needed hanging, and I was convenient gallows ballast." Still, so far no one has suggested that Brett Sawyer killed JonBenét.
More material considered suitable for hanging -- or at least jailing -- by Boulder authorities was J.T. Colfax, a driver for local mortuaries who'd already gotten in trouble for taking photographs of corpses. But his big break came when he snatched a page with JonBenét's name on it from the log book at the Boulder County morgue and then sent a few burning papers through the mail slot at the Ramseys' Boulder home. After pleading guilty to attempted first-degree arson, Colfax was sentenced to two years in the Boulder County Jail, an ideal set for an erstwhile performance artists. Colfax was recently released from jail, his time served before the grand jury was even close to serving up an indictment. And while a few people have suggested that J.T. Colfax might have killed JonBenét, he worked harder to solve the case from inside the jail than many of those outside.
Randy Simons, another shutterbug, did a studio shoot of pageant princess JonBenét in June 1996; after her murder, he sold the glamour shots for a paltry $7,500. His only motivation, he said at the time, was gaining exposure that would lead to the arrest of her killer. Instead, Simons himself was overexposed last October and held by police after they caught him walking naked down the streets of his hometown of Genoa, Colorado. Still, so far no one has suggested that Randy Simons killed JonBenét.
(Photography is a hazardous occupation, at least when connected to the Ramsey case: Boulder photographer Stephen Miles, who was arrested for possessing photographs of naked teenage boys in the late Eighties, was labeled as John Ramsey's major suspect in the October 21, 1997, National Enquirer -- a story that landed the tabloid a libel suit.)
And then, of course, there was Jay Elowsky, owner of Pasta Jay's restaurant and a friend of the Ramseys who put John and Patsy up in the early days after JonBenét's murder. In July 1997, Elowsky pled guilty to misdemeanor menacing: He'd brandished a baseball bat at two men he thought were reporters on Patsy's tail but who turned out to be mild-mannered engineers. Had the hapless victims actually been reporters, no jury in the land would have convicted Elowsky.
But Elowsky got his: This summer, John Gardiner, a homeless man who was working at Pasta Jay's, attacked Elowsky with a knife, accusing him of being somehow involved in JonBenét's murder. Gardiner was charged with second-degree felony assault, the most significant charge yet to emerge from the case -- in Boulder, at least. Still, so far no one has suggested that Jay Elowsky or John Gardiner killed JonBenét.
When the Boulder County grand jury finally charged with investigating JonBenét's murder first convened in September 1998, Don Van Wie expressed many Boulderites' hostility to the intense media presence by shoving an ABC News photographer. And while no jury would have convicted Van Wie, either, he accepted a one-year deferred prosecution. Which means that if he behaves himself for a year, his record will be clear. And so far, no one has suggested that Don Van Wie killed JonBenét.
Another one-year deferred prosecution went to former Globe reporter Jeffrey Shapiro, who'd been cited for harassment after he pursued a Ramsey-related interview subject with too much enthusiasm back in 1997. More First Amendment fervor was displayed this summer by Boulder gadflies Evan Ravnitz (also known as "Evan From Heaven") and Bob MacFarland, who tried to send copies of local author Steven Singular's Presumed Guilty to members of the grand jury, violating the law in the process. Still, no one has suggested that any of these three killed JonBenét (although Shapiro's recent essay in the Denver Post on media ethics slaughtered all logic).
Jefferson County has been putting on its own show, of which the anti-Lewis antics are only the most recent act. Earlier this summer, private investigators James and Regana Rapp were each charged with two counts of racketeering for illegally obtaining information about such high-profile people as John and Patsy Ramsey; a hearing on the validity of those indictments is set for October 15 in Jefferson County. They may have pilfered medical documents relating to Calista Flockhart's eating habits, but so far, no one has suggested that either Rapp killed JonBenét.
The same Jeffco grand jury also indicted retired Boulder attorney Thomas Miller with commercial bribery; he allegedly worked as a broker for the Globe on the ransom-note deal. And although trafficking with a tabloid may be punishable by death in Boulder, so far no one has suggested that Thomas Miller killed JonBenét.
Within the next few days, the Boulder County grand jury will either indict someone for JonBenét's murder or simply fold its tent -- in which case, with only two friends of the Ramseys, a Santa Claus wannabe and John Ramsey's older son officially cleared, just shy of six billion people will be left under Boulder's umbrella of suspicion.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.