Longform

Justice, Boulder Style

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The DA's office pressed McReynolds relentlessly, even after police concluded he had not committed the crime. Two years after the murder, prosecutor Trip DeMuth had McReynolds tailed and sent police to retrieve some cord McReynolds had been seen using, Thomas says. Santa Bill was also grilled by Deputy District Attorney Mary Keenan. The experience "was the worst thing I've ever been through," says McReynolds, who has since left Colorado with his wife, Janet. "I thought about suicide."

Every suspect named by the Ramseys spoke willingly with police.


Boulder police had been skeptical about Alex Hunter's office long before the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. "Some of us felt you almost had to have a videotape of a murder, a full confession and an affidavit from the victim to get a homicide case to go forward in Boulder," Thomas wrote in his book. The skepticism proved justified in the Ramsey case. Boulder prosecutors refused to authorize routine warrants for such things as credit card receipts and phone and banking records. They allowed the Ramseys' lawyers to dictate the conditions under which evidence would be tested. They hemorrhaged confidential information to the Ramsey team and to journalists. According to both Thomas and Lawrence Schiller, Hunter himself developed a friendly relationship with tabloid reporter Jeff Shapiro, then working for the Globe. He gave the reporter inside information. And in an astonishing departure from normal ethical practice, he offered Shapiro access to the personnel file of John Eller, the commander overseeing the Ramsey case; Eller's zeal apparently troubled Hunter.

Hunter referred to John Ramsey as "Big John." According to Thomas, the two prosecutors on the case, DeMuth and Hofstrom, spoke more than once of "building trust" with the Ramseys. When the CBI asked in January for another sample of Patsy Ramsey's handwriting, Hofstrom had her come to his home and write the sample at his kitchen table.

Eventually, Hunter brought in highly respected Colorado Springs investigator Lou Smit to work on the case. Within 72 hours of coming on board, Smit said he didn't think the Ramseys were guilty.

As police and DA investigators argued endlessly about footprints in the snow or their absence, unidentified palm prints, scuff marks, spiderwebs that may or may not have been disturbed, a Hi-Tech boot print and unidentifiable DNA, police were directed by Hunter's office to interview all friends, neighbors and business associates of the Ramseys; and identify everyone present at JonBenét's beauty pageants and examine every burglary occurring in Boulder -- both before and after the murder -- for a sexual component. And while they were doing it, they were to establish a "closer rapport" with the Ramseys.

Much of the evidence the Boulder detectives managed to collect was contravened, negated or reinterpreted by the district attorneys or their experts. When the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, having analyzed the tape of Patsy's 911 call, said that the voice of the Ramseys' nine-year-old son, Burke, could be heard (according to the Ramseys, their son had been asleep at that time), prosecutor Hofstrom sent the tape to Los Alamos, where technicians heard the meaningless phrase "I scream at you."

When police found that Don Foster, a linguistics expert from Vassar who had helped bring the Unabomber to justice, was willing to state that the handwriting on the ransom note was Patsy's, prosecutors dismissed Foster as unreliable. They had some cause: Before personally examining the note or any of the evidence, Foster had corresponded over the Internet with one of the hundreds of anonymous Ramsey junkies, and guessed - incorrectly -- that his correspondent might be John Ramsey's oldest son, John Andrew; Foster had also written a letter to Patsy at that time indicating he thought she was innocent. Thomas contends that a good prosecutor could have dealt with these problems in court, particularly since Foster's original opinion proved, if anything, that he was not prejudiced against Patsy before seeing the note.

Although a prosecutor must test evidence for weakness, Thomas says Hunter's activities went far beyond that. Ultimately, he believes, the DA usurped the role of a jury. "The DA's office thinks they have this crystal ball into what a...jury will do at some point in the future, and therefore they don't have to make the case," Thomas argued on Larry King Live.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman