The lawyer for Burke Ramsey, brother of JonBenét Ramsey, who was murdered in Boulder on Christmas Day 1996, believes that a subpoena issued for former Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter won't do anything to exonerate CBS in a $750 million lawsuit filed by Burke in December 2016.
To the contrary, Atlanta-based attorney Lin Wood thinks that Hunter's deposition would only undermine the assertion in the CBS program The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey that Burke killed his sister when he was nine and she was six, which he characterizes as both defamatory and utterly unsupported by facts.
"I believe Mr. Hunter was professionally and personally outraged by tabloid accusations made against Burke in 1999 while he was the district attorney," Wood notes in a Q&A below, "and I expect that he is equally outraged by the accusations made against this young man by CBS."
News of the subpoena broke in the Boulder Daily Camera, which reported that the former DA, who retired from the office in 2001 and is now 81 years old, is fighting the subpoena on multiple fronts. He's said to consider the demand that he offer his thoughts "an 'annoyance' that would interfere with his annual relocation to Hawaii," but also maintains that cooperating would "compromise an 'open investigation and potential prosecution' of the person or persons responsible for JonBenét's death."
The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey aired in September 2016. The next month, Wood filed a $150 million suit against Dr. Werner Spitz, a Michigan-based forensic pathologist who theorized on the show that Burke had killed JonBenét with a blow to the head. And in October 2017, Wood hit CBS with a $350 million demand on behalf of Burke's father, John Ramsey. Patsy Ramsey, wife of John and mother to JonBenét and Burke, died of cancer in 2004.
"CBS perpetrated a fraud upon the public," according to the John Ramsey suit. "Instead of being a documentary based on a new and legitimate investigation by a team of qualified and unbiased experts, The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey was a fictional crime show based primarily on a preconceived storyline scripted in the self-published and commercially unsuccessful book Foreign Faction...self-published in 2012."
Another section of the suit maintains that "Defendants’ accusation that John covered-up that Burke killed JonBenét was not based on a complete investigation revealing truthful facts, new witnesses, new evidence or new theories. Instead, Defendants consciously built their Documentary on an illegitimate and unfounded investigation, false and omitted facts, old witnesses, old evidence and old theories."
CBS moved for the lawsuits to be tossed, but in January, Judge David Groner allowed each to move forward. Hence the network's subpoena for Hunter, who, the Camera notes, "signed an affidavit in October 2000, shortly before leaving office, which stated in part, 'From December 26th, 1996, to the date of this affidavit, no evidence has ever been developed in the investigation to justify elevating Burke Ramsey's status from that of witness to suspect.'"
This position leaves Wood wondering why CBS would have such an interest in having Hunter weigh in, as he makes clear in the following Q&A, conducted via email.
Westword: Why do you think Alex Hunter has been subpoenaed in relation to the lawsuit?
Lin Wood: CBS issued the subpoena, so only CBS can state why the subpoena was issued to Mr. Hunter. The CBS documentary concluded that Burke Ramsey killed his sister based on CBS’ representation that a full re-investigation of the evidence had been undertaken by its team of "experts." In his libel lawsuit, Burke challenges not only the accusation, but also the legitimacy of this alleged "re-investigation."
CBS has apparently realized that the evidence relied upon by its "experts" does not support the accusation against Burke. The recent discovery efforts aimed at Boulder officials, including Mr. Hunter, confirm that CBS is still searching for evidence to support its false and defamatory accusation against Burke. Stated differently, if CBS had enough evidence to support its accusation being broadcast to the world in its 2016 documentary, why in the world is CBS searching for more evidence in 2019?
The answer is obvious — the 2016 documentary was rank speculation unsupported by any credible evidence and CBS knows it. CBS is in search of a defense it will never find.
Why is it important that Alex Hunter cooperate with the subpoena?
Mr. Hunter is a third party to this litigation and has the right to question whether there is a legitimate need for his testimony and/or whether the subpoena imposes unnecessary trouble and expense. I do not view Mr. Hunter’s motion to quash as being based solely on inconvenience to him or as an effort on his part to be uncooperative. CBS has the burden of convincing the Court that there is a legitimate need for discovery from Mr. Hunter.
What information do you believe Alex Hunter has that pertains to the lawsuit?
Based on his May, 1999, press statement and his October 2000 sworn affidavit (executed one year after the end of the grand jury investigation), which cleared Burke of any suspicion based on the actual evidence, I am confident that the only information Mr. Hunter could offer in this case would support Burke’s case against CBS. Accusing Burke of killing his sister while ignoring the statements of former District Attorney Hunter and other knowledgeable Boulder law enforcement officials was the height of recklessness on the part of CBS.
How would you characterize Alex Hunter's role in the investigation into the murder of JonBenét Ramsey?
As the Boulder District Attorney at the time of the murder until his retirement, Mr. Hunter was the public official with final authority over the investigation and decisions as to whether the evidence supported criminal charges being filed against any individual. I believe Mr. Hunter was professionally and personally outraged by tabloid accusations made against Burke in 1999 while he was the District Attorney and I expect that he is equally outraged by the accusations made against this young man by CBS.
What is the current status of the lawsuit, and can you provide a general timeline of what will happen next?
The parties are in the final stages of document production and are also actively taking depositions. Discovery will likely be complete by mid-2019. I expect CBS will thereafter follow standard media defense strategy by filing a motion for summary judgment. I am confident that such a motion will be unsuccessful and the case will move to a jury trial in late 2019 or early 2020.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.