Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Ramsey: Release all the testimony

John Ramsey

The latest news out of Boulder regarding the alleged grand jury indictment of John and Patsy Ramsey in the death of their daughter 6-year-old Jon Benet has taken a strange turn. As legal momentum swings toward the release of the document, a demand for broader document release has been issued by an unexpected source: John Ramsey.

When reporter Charlie Brennan sued current Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett for the release of a secret grand jury indictment never put forward by prosecutors, he asked to see only the one document signed by the grand jury foreperson indicting the Ramseys for child abuse resulting in Jon Benet’s death. As Brennan told Crime Library, “The 13 months of hard work by the grand jury and the decision that they reached… are certainly among the most pivotal developments in a case that stands as one of the most enduring criminal mysteries of the modern era.”

Last Thursday, Judge Robert Lowenbach issued a ruling that seemed favorable to the indictment’s release. Lowenbach ruled that releasing the indictment would not violate Colorado’s rules regarding grand jury secrecy. And he wrote that the public had a right to scrutinize the indictment in light of then-DA Alex Hunter’s decision not to prosecute. In his four-page ruling, Lowenbach maintained, “This court agrees that transparency of a prosecutor’s decision not to proceed with an indictment from the grand jury is in the public interest… the process followed in this case offered citizens no opportunity to consider the conflict between the decisions of the prosecutor and the grand jury.”

Then on Friday, Boulder DA Stan Garnett told the court he would file under seal “any such document in our possession” (i.e., the 1999 grand jury indictment) and allow Judge Lowenbach to make the ultimate decision as to whether the document would be released. In its filing, the DA’s office maintained their reluctance to release the indictment was out of respect for grand jury secrecy laws, and perhaps for the Ramseys, who lived under the cloud of suspicion for many years. “Our refusal focused on our concerns related to the legality of such a disclosure, particularly where an individual may have been accused but never formally charged,” prosecutor Sean Finn wrote on behalf of DA Garnett. “That concern seems particularly relevant where, as here, there can be no prosecution for the charges.”

In fact, the statute of limitations on the grand jury’s charges ran out after three years in 2002, so there is no risk that John Ramsey (Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006) would be prosecuted for the crimes even if the indictment is released and provokes great public outcry.

Of course, the Ramseys were already released from suspicion back in 2008 by then Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy. In a July 9, 2008 letter to John Ramsey, Lacy wrote that new DNA evidence found on Jon Benet’s clothing cleared the Ramsey family, “we do not consider your immediate family, including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime.”

Crime Library has obtained the 2008 letter to John Ramsey. Click here to read.

Elsewhere in that letter, DA Lacy made a pledge to John Ramsey: “We intend in the future to treat you as the victims of this crime, with the sympathy due you because of the horrific loss you suffered. Otherwise, we will continue to refrain from publicly discussing the evidence in this case.”

That very public promise made it all the more surprising when, through his lawyers, John Ramsey weighed in on the current controversy – asking for the release of more documents than Brennan had asked for in his lawsuit.

On Sunday, Ramsey lawyers Harold Haddon and Bryan Morgan, wrote a letter to DA Stan Garnett insisting that if the grand jury indictment is released, the rest of the grand jury testimony should be made available as well to put the decisions of the grand jury and district attorney in proper context. “Public release of the allegations of an unprosecuted indictment only serves to further defame (John Ramsey) and his late wife Patricia,” Ramsey’s lawyers wrote. “Mr. Ramsey will have no access to whatever evidence the prosecutors presented to the grand jury and will have no ability to disprove those allegations in a court of law. Nor will the public have any ability to evaluate the propriety of the indictment unless the entire grand jury record is unsealed and opened to public view.”

Judge Lowenbach is expected to rule soon with the possibility of a treasure trove of Jon Benet Ramsey testimony and evidence for reporters to review and possibly to reassess the investigation. For Charlie Brennan, this opportunity can’t come soon enough: “In a case marked by often bitter divisiveness among people that it touched,” he told Crime Library, “ I am hearing universal agreement that it is time to make the record of the grand jury’s actions, and those of [then DA] Alex Hunter, public.”


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