Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Panty Raid

Once again, Colorado's dirty laundry is on public display. Just think: better high-altitude detergent and this state might stay out of the headlines.

Because once again, Exhibit A is mystery DNA in panties -- this pair belonging to Kobe Bryant's accuser. Just last Thursday, the day before Bryant's sexual-assault trial was scheduled to start in Eagle County District Court, prosecutors were back before Judge Terry Ruckriegle, arguing that a report on that DNA should be kept out of trial because the sample may have been tainted.

DNA in a pair of panties... When was the last time underwear got such over-the-top play? Maybe last December, when an attorney for John and Patsy Ramsey revealed that a sample of mystery DNA found in JonBenét's panties had been sent to the FBI for identification -- seven years after John Ramsey discovered the body of his missing six-year-old daughter in the basement of the family's Boulder home on December 26, 1996.

By then the Ramseys had left Atlanta, where they'd moved after JonBenét's death, for Charlevoix, Michigan, where they'd kept a summer home. And Ramsey soon became a candidate for the Michigan state legislature, saying that his daughter's murder gave him a "platform" -- and that the mystery DNA found in her panties made it clear that an intruder, rather than any member of the Ramsey family (himself most definitely included), had killed the girl. That wasn't enough for Michigan Republicans to give Ramsey a vote of confidence, though; he placed second in last month's primary.

Panty DNA is still a factor in Bryant's case -- although this DNA's owner is a mystery only to the public, and that secret could soon be revealed in open court. On August 30, even as more potential jurors were filling out their questionnaires, the court was issuing Ruckriegle's ruling that the defense had to provide an unredacted copy of a page of a lab's DNA report, as well as an explanation for why portions of page 40 had been redacted. That report details findings on the DNA located in the panties that Bryant's accuser had worn to the hospital for a rape exam after she accused the basketball star of assaulting her on the night of June 30, 2003. That DNA did not come from Bryant, who's admitted having sex with the woman but claims it was consensual; the prosecution would like jurors never to know where the DNA came from, since a defense expert testified in June that its presence in the panties indicated that the woman had sex with another man after her encounter with Bryant.

While the judge and the attorneys were wrangling over the DNA report, prospective jurors were grappling with 82 questions, including "What are your feelings about the sexual assault laws in Colorado?" and "What criminal cases have you followed in the media?"

If they followed the JonBenét Ramsey case and read some of the coverage in the Globe, they'd know that DNA in a pair of panties is just one of the connections between the two cases. Reporter Jeff Shapiro worked for the Globe from 1997 until 1999, when, he says, he reported his editors to the FBI for criminal violations. In fact, Globe editor Craig Lewis was ultimately accused of criminal bribery in Jefferson County in connection with his attempts to induce -- i.e., pay -- a handwriting expert used by the Ramseys to give him a copy of the ransom note; that case was settled when the Globe gave $100,000 to the University of Colorado journalism school to fund ethics courses. Courses that were not taught by Shapiro, although he's since lectured on the horrors of tabloid reporting, including how it's skewed the Bryant case. And in February, he released his own book on that case, the self-published, 160-page Kobe Bryant: The Game of His Life (now available on Amazon for $10.36 a copy).

"I've kept nearly every supermarket tabloid story since this case began," Shapiro wrote in Insight, an online magazine, this past April, "and of the numerous stories that have featured the Bryant case, almost none of them shine a light on the admired NBA superstar, despite numerous rumors about Bryant that would make for excellent tabloid reporting. Although the tabloids have periodically reported Bryant's marital problems, they have refrained from investigating real stories about his private life that could implicate him in the charges he faces.... Instead of pursuing Bryant, the tabloids have devoted countless hours to stalking the alleged victim, revealing her private locations and personal relationships. As a result, the 19-year-old has had to abandon her studies at school and spend most of her days in hiding."

Shapiro's name has turned up on the list of 150 witnesses endorsed for Bryant's trial. It's a good bet he's not being called by the defense.

Ah, the defense. In his Insight piece, Shapiro went on at length regarding Hal Haddon, one of Bryant's two primary attorneys and the lawyer who represented the Ramseys in those critical years when they didn't want to become defendants. And they didn't. The Boulder District Attorney's Office -- which has loaned two prosecutors to the Eagle County team now trying Bryant -- never filed charges against the couple, and a Boulder County grand jury disbanded in 1999 without issuing indictments.

Today the Ramseys are represented by L. Lin Wood, who has sued Fox News on their behalf (and sent the DNA to the FBI). An Atlanta judge gave that libel suit legs when she bought into the DNA in the panties/intruder theory; the case has since been moved to Colorado. Which is handy, because Wood is now spending plenty of time in this state: He's representing Bryant's accuser in her civil suit against him, filed just last month in Denver.

Up in Eagle County, Wood has not only rubbed up against Haddon, but he's encountered some of the same broadcast folks who are targets of the Ramseys' ire. If Bryant had decided to have knee surgery in Omaha, if JonBenét had been murdered in Peoria -- if whatever did happen in these cases had happened in places without pretty scenery and nearby ski resorts -- would the national media have racked up so many frequent-flier miles to cover them? And would so many local figures have gained second careers as legal pundits? Craig Silverman, Denver's former chief deputy DA, has opined on the Bryant case for numerous national shows, as well as Channel 7, where he noted a few Ramsey connections months ago.

In his January 21 "Craig's Court," on 7's website, Silverman wrote about Shapiro's upcoming book on Bryant and recounted how Shapiro had cozied up to then-Boulder DA Alex Hunter, and "the addled veteran prosecutor became so unhinged by the pressure of the world watching that he sought solace in extensive secret soul-searching meetings with this tabloid junior reporter." That relationship was revealed in Perfect Murder Perfect Town, a book made into a TV movie (in which Silverman got to play himself) that was written by Lawrence Schiller and Charlie Brennan -- the Rocky Mountain News's main reporter on the Ramsey murder who, yes, is now covering the Kobe Bryant case.

For the sake of closure for all Coloradans, lawyers on that case should ask each potential juror one final question: "Do you know who killed JonBenét?"

Spell Bound

Brandon Shaffer, the Democratic candidate in Colorado Senate District 17, was pleasantly surprised when he saw an unexpected television ad touting his campaign. But that was before his wife, a schoolteacher, caught the misspelled word.

And what a word: The ad plugging Shaffer, a graduate of Stanford University whose website promises that he's "100 percent dedicated to quality public education in Colorado," misspells the word "amendment." Adding insult to injury, it does so in a reference to Amendment 23, the constitutional provision guaranteeing a certain level of funding for public education that Shaffer's pledged to preserve.

But when Shaffer tried to have the ad corrected, he got a fast lesson in the unintended consequences of campaign-finance reform. Because of quirks in that law, even groups placing ads in favor of candidates don't have to reveal who's funding them -- not until sixty days before the election. And when Shaffer contacted the Colorado Senate Democratic Campaign Fund, he was told only that "whoever might have put it up has figured out they made a mistake," he says.

When he spotted the ad again this Monday, though, it still read "ammendment."

Even the Colorado Democratic Party says it has no idea who made the buy.

"They're very well-meaning, but I have no editorial control," Shaffer laments. Still, there's a happy ending to this story. "I've been knocking on doors," he says. "The ad's working."

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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

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