Criminal Justice

JonBenet Grand Jury Indictment Might Re-Ignite Case

JonBenet Ramsey was deliberately murdered in 1996 after she came home from Christmas dinner. It was First Degree Murder. Death came from the deliberate twisting of a garrote placed around her neck.

For many years, the world fixated on finding JonBenet’s killer. It was surprising Boulder’s Courtroom E was only half full on October 11, 2013 for the most fascinating public court hearing ever held on the case.

In the courtroom watching was Fleet White who hosted JonBenet’s last supper and the next day witnessed John Ramsey locate his daughter’s dead body. The Boulder Daily Camera was there. The Rocky Mountain News and Patsy Ramsey are now deceased. According to a sensational 2013 Camera story by former Rocky reporter Charlie Brennan, the Boulder Grand Jury indicted John and Patsy Ramsey in 1999 for killing their daughter.

Last Friday, we learned Brennan’s reporting was accurate. Charlie Brennan, a skilled journalist, helped write Perfect Murder, Perfect Town : The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury’s Search for the Final Truth. Brennan and his accomplished attorneys successfully sued Boulder DA Stan Garnett for release of the grand jury’s indictments.

Alex Hunter, a Boulder Democrat, bollixed the case in so many ways. The Ramseys hired smart, liberal, and politically powerful lawyers who did their utmost to influence Hunter and defend JonBenet’s parents. Because of Hunter’s perceived conflicts and ineptitude, the case was somewhat taken away from the Boulder DA by successive Colorado governors. But in late 1999, Hunter remained in charge, and we now know he squelched and suppressed the grand jury’s decision to indict JonBenet’s parents.

Current Boulder DA Stan Garnett learned how to be a prosecutor in Denver in the 1980s. He is smart, ambitious, and a better DA than his predecessors, Mary Lacy, and her boss, the inept Alex Hunter. Between reporting jobs, Charlie Brennan worked as Garnett’s campaign spokesperson when the current Boulder DA ran in 2010 for Colorado Attorney General. The current Boulder DA’s Office offered only token opposition to the release of the Ramsey indictments.

Garnett’s office conceded “we have found many of (Brennan’s) arguments persuasive.” The DA further told the Court that Boulder Police Chief Beckner has informed them that release of the written indictments will not hamper ongoing or future investigations.

Since late 1997, when Mark Beckner replaced the buffoonish Tom Koby, Boulder police seemed convinced that John and Patsy Ramsey were responsible. The grand jury apparently agreed, but its decision to indict on Child Abuse Resulting in Death, a class two felony, is confusing and perhaps the result of a compromise.

The Boulder grand jury heard many months of testimony and then made the damning accusation that JonBenet’s father and mother knowingly permitted their daughter to be placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to their child’s life or health, which resulted in her death. The resulting charge is Child Abuse Resulting in Death, a class two felony, which has a statute of limitations that expired on Christmas, 1999.

There is a class one felony variation of Child Abuse Resulting in Death which is a form of First Degree Murder. The DA would need to prove that a person in a position of trust (John Ramsey and Patsy Ramsey), caused the child abuse which resulted in six year oldJonBenet’s death, or acted as an accomplice for the person who did.  I surmise the grand jury considered this charge (as Count IV) for each Ramsey parent, but did not achieve the necessary nine out of twelve majorities to vote it up (True Bill) or down (no True Bill).

The grand jury returned True Bills signed by its foreman on only two of a probable nine charges considered against both Ramsey parents. Aside from Count IV(a), the grand jury voted True Bills against John and Patsy Ramsey on a class four felony, Count VII, Accessory to the Crime of First Degree Murder and Child Abuse Resulting in Death. The parents were both accused of rendering assistance after to the killer of their daughter after the despicable act.

On the other counts, the grand jury apparently could not sufficiently agree on any True Bill or No True Bill. Judge Lowenbach decided only to release the counts on which the grand jury could agree, as verified by the signature of the grand jury foreman, which is why we only have the four pages.

Nine separate criminal counts were likely prepared by the prosecutors and deliberated by the grand jury against each Ramsey parent. We learned from Judge Robert Lowenbach’s Order that the Boulder DA turned over eighteen pages under seal. Each page likely contained a lone charge against each of JonBenet’s parents. The grand jury apparently considered a Sexual Assault on a Child charge because the judge further wrote:

“It appears that the District Attorney, presumably acting at the discretion of the grand jury, prepared a series of possible charges regarding John Ramsey and Patricia Ramsey based on the fact that the child had died and that there was evidence that a sexual assault of the child had occurred,”

What were the other counts considered? Perhaps they were as follows:

  1. First Degree Murder – After Deliberation (F1)
  2. First Degree Murder – Felony Murder (during commission of sexual assault on a child or other crime) (F1)
  3. Sexual Assault on a Child

III.(a) Sexual Assault on a Child – Pattern of Conduct

  1. Child Abuse Resulting in Death (F1) (child abuse against victim under 12 caused by person in position of trust), a.k.a. First Degree Murder. 18-3-102(1)(f) and 18-6-401(7)(c)

IV.(a) Child Abuse Resulting in Death (F2)

(permitted child to be placed in situation that led to her death.)

  1. Child Abuse (permitting child to be placed in a situation where she is injured and/or sexually assaulted)
  2. Accessory to Crime of Sexual Assault on a Child
  3. Accessory to Crime of First Degree Murder and Child Abuse Resulting in Death (F4)

*True bills returned by grand jury in bold

If I am correct, the true bill on Count VII may reveal the grand jury was convinced that one of the Ramsey parents committed counts I and IV, but was not convinced which Ramsey did what. Perhaps a third person who the Ramseys knew, and permitted into the house, was considered.

We can’t know for sure because the Accessory charge does not delineate what form of Child Abuse Resulting in Death it is referencing, although it would make most sense for it to be the class one felony that is a form of First Degree Murder. We cannot know from the Accessory charge because the law of accessory in Colorado reads in pertinent part:

(3) Being an accessory to crime is a class 4 felony if the offender knows that the person being assisted has committed, or has been convicted of, or is charged by pending information, indictment, or complaint with a crime, and if that crime is designated by this code as a class 1 or class 2 felony.

Insofar as complicity, it is never the subject of a separate count in Colorado The grand jury would have been instructed, “A person is legally accountable as principal for the behavior of another constituting a criminal offense if, with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense, he or she aids, abets, advises, or encourages the other person in planning or committing the offense.”

Judge Lowenbach ruled that DA Alex Hunter had no right to hide the grand jury’s decision to indict, let alone to actively mislead the public. The true bills had to be disclosed based on case law, statutes and Colorado’s Rules of Criminal Procedure. In their book, The Death of Innocence, the Ramseys claimed clearance by the grand jury. Boulder DA Mary Lacy, who knew of the indictments, never mentioned it when she issued her “exoneration,” a move now belittled by Garnett.

Odds are the case will never go to trial, but extraordinary things have happened in this unusual case. The Boulder Police Department rift with the Boulder DA is long over. Substantial time has passed and some say DNA clears the Ramseys, but one undeniable truth remains. JonBenet was the victim of First Degree Murder and that crime has no statute of limitations.

It sure would be nice to know who killed JonBenet. 

Craig Silverman is a partner in the downtown Denver law firm of Silverman & Olivas, P.C. The law firm specializes in personal injury law, criminal matters, and problem solving. Craig served for sixteen years at the Denver District Attorney’s Office where he was a Chief Deputy District Attorney. Craig has appeared hundreds of times on local and national media. Subjects have included the death penalty, serial rapists, the JonBenet Ramsey case, Columbine, the Oklahoma City Bombing trials, the Kobe Bryant case, and the Aurora movie theater massacre. Craig was co-host of the award winning Caplis and Silverman afternoon drive time radio show on 630KHOW (2004-2012).

Listen to Craig discuss the grand jury indictments on 710 KNUS’s The Peter Boyles Show:

Watch Craig discuss the story on the Today Show:

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