Update below: Burke Ramsey, older brother of JonBenét Ramsey, who was murdered in Boulder on Christmas Day of 1996, has filed a lawsuit against Dr. Werner Spitz, a Michigan-based forensic pathologist. Spitz theorized on the CBS program The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey that Burke had killed JonBenét with a blow to the head.
The lawsuit, included below, doesn't target Spitz for his comments on the CBS production. Rather, the document focuses on an interview he gave to CBS Detroit on September 19 during which he made similar statements. The case has been filed in the 3rd Circuit Court for the County of Wayne, Michigan, which encompasses the Detroit area; Burke currently lives in Charlevoix County, Michigan.
However, the suit maintains that "the CBS docuseries and Defendant Spitz's participation in it will be the subject of separate defamation litigation to be filed in the near future in Los Angeles, California."
Here are several quotes by Spitz from the CBS Detroit interview, as cited in the lawsuit:
"If you really, really use your free time to think about this case, you cannot come to a different conclusion.... It's the boy who did it [i.e. killed JonBenét], whether he was jealous, or mentally unfit or something.... I don't know the why, I'm not a psychiatrist, but what I am sure about is what I know about him, that is what happened here."
We've reached out to Dr. Spitz, as well as longtime Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood, who's among those listed as representing Burke. Wood replied after this item was published, and his comment is on view below. If and when Dr. Spitz replies, we'll update.
Marijuana Deals Near You
The introductory section of the lawsuit immediately attacks Spitz's credibility, stating that he has "a disturbing history of making false statements related to the brutal murder of young girls."
The suit also points out that Spitz "has been found liable for malicious prosecution due to his false claims about the mutilation of a body" (the case dates back to 1978) and dubs him "a publicity seeker with a history of injecting himself in high-profile cases in an effort to make money, exaggerate his resume and claim a level of expertise that he does not possess or deserve."
This last assertion is made specific to the Ramsey case in a manner that speaks to motive.
Defendant Spitz has long sought to insert himself into the JonBenét Ramsey case as part of a historical pattern of self-promotion by making outrageous and unsupported statements to gain publicity in high-profile cases.
Defendant Spitz harbored personal ill-will and spite toward the Ramsey family, including Burke Ramsey, because he believes the Ramsey family shut him out of the investigation — thereby frustrating his pursuit of self-promotion.
Regarding Burke, the suit states plainly that he "did not kill his sister, JonBenét" and allows that he "has never been a suspect or a possible suspect in the investigation" — a supposition supported by comments attributed to former Boulder police chief Mark Beckner and ex-Boulder district attorney Alex Hunter.
Also flagged in the suit are other claims made by Spitz in the CBS Detroit interview.
He's said to have made "false and defamatory" statements that "Burke Ramsey had smeared a family bathroom with feces," that he "smeared JonBenét's room with feces," that "claw marks around JonBenét's neck predated her murder, rather than resulting from her struggles to free herself from the garrote" around her neck and that "JonBenét was not sexually assaulted when she was murdered."
Many observers, including yours truly, doubted that attorney Wood would follow through on threats to file lawsuits about the theories pressed in the CBS program, since doing so would open up the Ramsey family to discovery — a process allowing defendants to dig into the past in extremely intrusive and potentially damaging ways. The filing against Spitz suggests otherwise.
Update: After the publication of this item, we received an e-mail comment from attorney Lin Wood. It reads: “The accusations by Werner Spitz against this young man are outrageous. Such false accusations have no place in an orderly society. This lawsuit is the first step to holding Spitz accountable for his wrongdoing.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Here's the lawsuit.