Longform

Justice, Boulder Style

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When the DA finally made plans for a grand jury -- almost two years after police had suggested one -- the detectives who actually worked the case were told their presence wasn't needed. A year ago this week, the grand jury finished its work without indicting anyone for the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.Patsy Ramsey: ...He was headed down a wrong path. He was at the point of no return. And his ego is the size of a barn, and he can't put it aside to try to find the murderer of this child.

John Ramsey: He's a profiteer. He's the only person from inside the system who has written a book, who has gone on national television. It's disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.

--Larry King Live

The frustrations of the Ramsey case took a serious toll on Steve Thomas. On a May morning, he found a mutilated cat outside his house; his garden hose had been sliced and his wife's flower garden wrecked. Newly married at the beginning of the investigation, he rarely saw his wife. When his father was rushed to a Denver hospital with heart failure, Thomas was in Atlanta, questioning associates of the Ramseys; instead of rushing back, he continued his work. (His father recovered.)

In early 1998, Thomas, suffering from lethargy, headaches, weight loss and back pain, was diagnosed as having lymphatic thyroiditis. Thyroid problems had contributed to his mother's death.

On August 6, 1998, Thomas wrote a long letter of resignation to Boulder's new police chief, Mark Beckner. "What I witnessed for two years of my life was so fundamentally flawed, it reduced me to tears," he said. "I cannot continue to sanction by silence what has occurred in this case."

Thomas's letter sparked a brief flurry of concern about the operations of the Boulder County District Attorney's Office. But the DA's office struck back, noting that the Ramsey case was Thomas's first murder investigation, and labeling him a rookie cop who had gotten in over his head and whose own failure had made him bitter and vengeful.

Many of Thomas's colleagues would disagree with this depiction. "He's one hell of an investigator and a good cop," says Jim Kolar, now working in Telluride.

"The best police officer I have ever worked with," says Greg Idler, who's also left the BPD. "Excellent in investigations and at interviewing. Steve never let anything die; he always worked it to the end. And he's an expert when it came to deceptive responses from suspects. Steve has never been one to take the easy or the most popular way. He's the one who wants to get justice."

The attacks escalated. Hints surfaced that Thomas was mentally unstable; according to Jeff Shapiro, these rumors were coming from the DA's office.

And once Thomas had written his book -- which enjoyed a brief sojourn on the New York Times bestseller list -- he faced accusations that he had acted out of greed and betrayed the case. But Thomas has a response for this: Thanks to Hunter, he says, there were few secrets left in the investigation when he began to write. "The facts are the facts," he adds. "They in no way, shape or form change because, two years later, I write a book about my experience...

"Hunter comments that Thomas has made a million dollars and it's all blood money," Thomas says. "I'm not advocating anybody buy the book. Go to the library and check it out and tell me that this was not a story that should have been told. But Hunter is so hypocritical...This guy had the gall to go to an attorneys' conference in a beach resort in Alabama, and you know what the topic of his speech was? 'Managing the High-Profile Child Homicide.' On whose time and whose dime is he down in Alabama and up in Seattle giving speeches?

"If I'm not mistaken, in Boulder, Colorado, there is still an open homicide investigation, and presumably, he is still the district attorney till January."

Patsy Ramsey: I have faith that comes from only one source. God knows who killed JonBenét Ramsey. Steve Thomas does not know, Patsy Ramsey does not know, and John Ramsey does not know. God knows, and the truth is going to prevail.

-- Larry King Live

Trip DeMuth, who had run against colleague Mary Keenan in the Democratic primary and lost, resigned from the district attorney's office last month. He has taken a job with Crisman, Bynum and Johnson - whose principals include Mike Bynum, Boulder County deputy district attorney in the mid-'70s and current advisor to and close friend of John and Patsy Ramsey.

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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