Better Shred Than Read

What did Boulder do to deserve this?
That's a stupid question. Next question.
Okay. So why did Boulder call a rare news conference last Thursday, introduce it as a "briefing" and then let Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter launch into a half-hour, Mayberry-meets-Naropa soliloquy that covered everything from his dawn workout schedule to feelings in his belly (which knows he's got a case) and heart (which knows he's not arrogant) to "resource allocation" to media ethics to understanding reporters' frustration to perhaps having had his job too long to, seven weeks after the murder of JonBenet, being "stripped of any mercy" that he might previously have shown JonBenet's killer, whoever that might be--not that Hunter's telling?

Next question.
Okay. So what kind of mercy do you ever show a person who fixes a garrote about a six-year-old's neck, sexually assaults her and then kills her?

Next question.
Okay. So when Hunter says he feels our pain, the "pain everyone feels about this loss," does he know he sounds like the "I love you, man" man on the beer commercials?

Next question.
Okay. So when did "roundtable"--as in, call lots of local district attorneys and listen as they politely sidestep just what a mess this case has become and then make them part of your "expert prosecution task force"--become a verb?

Next question.
Okay. So after Hunter's not-so-brief "briefing" came a cameo appearance by Boulder police chief Tom Koby, who also apparently has been stripped of any mercy, stripped right down to his rarely seen uniform, and who proceeded to prove it by showing no mercy to reporters. Although they'd been told they could ask questions that fit within the scope of the discussion--just what is that workout regimen, Mr. DA?--as soon as reporters actually asked them, why did Koby treat them like frat boys smuggling beer into a rush party?

Next question.
Okay. So if Koby follows the "media management" rules handed down by his mentor, one Lee P. Brown, wouldn't it have been thoughtful--sensitive even--to have provided those to reporters in advance? (For those who missed Professor Koby's remedial class, it breaks down thusly: Don't answer "stupid questions," don't answer questions that lead to speculation, don't answer questions that compromise your investigation.)

Are there any more questions? Good.
While Koby and company swatted reporters' queries like so many pesky flies, the real news--the real "sharing," so to boulderspeak--was happening nearby, as Assistant District Attorney Bill Wise took his boss's case for more bucks to the Boulder County commissioners. At the same time Hunter was revealing that he'd been "stripped of any mercy" he might have had for the killer if, say, that killer had confessed and saved everyone a whole lot of pain and expense, Wise was confessing to commissioners that out of 50,000 cases, he could think of only two cases "where the person walked in and pled guilty. Confession doesn't mean anything, and you won't get one, anyhow."

At the same time Hunter was announcing that two experts who'd worked for O.J. Simpson's criminal defense team would be joining Boulder's task force, Wise was assuring the commissioners that no one from the L.A. District Attorney's office would be joining the group. And the folks coming on board would work cheap, including DNA expert Barry Scheck, who "just kicked the poop out of the prosecution out there." Sure, the O.J. additions might draw even more attention to the case and, not incidentally, Boulder, Wise acknowledged, but "you know, the funny thing is that it doesn't matter anymore. Once a case captures the national attention, it starts this frenzy." Adding fuel to that fire, one commissioner speculated, was reporters' appreciation for the amenities of the Boulderado Hotel and the Pearl Street Mall. "That's assuming they stay out of the local pasta bistros," noted another.

(Why did Patsy Ramsey, who has not yet managed to schedule an interview with the Boulder Police Department regarding the murder of her six-year-old daughter, go to the Boulder sheriff to help pasta pusher Jay Elowsky plead his case with authorities? Next question.)

At the same time Hunter said little--but said it long--about the case, Wise was considerably more up front with the commissioners about the nature of the "press conference going on right now over at the City with Tom Koby and Alex Hunter. They are announcing, among other things--they're actually announcing very little about the case." And that could be because the Boulder cops' investigation has problems. "It's not as bad as Peter Boyles is reporting, but there have been some problems," Wise said, then proceeded to exacerbate them: "Well, I'm not going to criticize the Boulder Police Department, but I'd sure like to, but I really don't want to get into that...If there weren't a close relationship between Tom Koby and Alex Hunter, we wouldn't be in the case at all right now."

I love you, man.
On Friday, Hunter woke to a rosy dawn and a Rocky Mountain News cover that bannered his "message to the murderer" and all hell breaking loose over Wise's comments, particularly his reference that "one of the suspects had money."

"I stand by my statement yesterday that the list of suspects is narrowing," Hunter pronounced in a hastily prepared statement, "but it is not yet time to publicly identify anyone who may be a suspect, and Mr. Wise did not intend to do so."

(Nor did he: Wise's comment was no more damning than Hunter's own David/Goliath analogy, particularly given the discussion that followed. What if the killer was some "poor schlep down the block" from the Ramseys? wondered one commissioner. "If they're down the block, they're not too poor," replied another.)

Hunter restated his "utmost confidence and respect for Boulder police chief Tom Koby and his homicide squad. I had hoped that the solidarity and camaraderie demonstrated at yesterday's news conference by Chief Koby and me would speak for itself."

It would have had to, since the two of them weren't about to answer any questions.

No matter. Within hours, there was much more to discuss than whether Pat Korten might be available to give Boulder officials a few tips on handling the press. (First hint: If you call a "news" conference, offer some news.) Over the objections of Hunter and other Boulder officials, Boulder District Court Judge Carol Glowinski decided to release a redacted version of JonBenet Ramsey's autopsy report. Like the coroner's photographs reprinted in the Globe, the straightforward description of JonBenet's injuries brought home the horrors of her death.

Brought them straight home to Boulder.
The county commissioners are now wrestling with how to pay for an investigation that Koby says may stretch out for months. After that, and with any luck, there could be a trial. After that, and with a lot of luck, there might be a conviction. In the meantime, there will be big bills.

Including one for the DA's purchase of a paper shredder. "I've always thought [paper shredders] were stupid," Wise admitted in discussing the request. "I always thought that if you run an open office that the reporter can walk through the front door and look at any file. Why would you have a paper shredder?"

"Yeah," responded commissioner Paul Danish, a writer himself. "You're more apt to be quoted correctly if you allow them to steal a document."

Finally. The answer. You could give it to them. Or hell, why not cover your costs by selling the public these public records? The Globe would pay.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun