Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jon Benet Ramsey grand jury indictment released

Fourteen years after a Boulder grand jury voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey in the death of the daughter Jon Benet, the indictment was released to the public.

Friday, Judge Robert Lowenbach turned over to reporters the four pages of charges signed by the grand jury foreperson (whose name was redacted). Although Lowenbach had more grand jury documents in his possession, he ruled that only the signed pages were “official actions” by the grand jury and that all other records were protected by grand jury secrecy rules

The released documents proved false the common belief that a reading of the case evidence held the Ramseys blameless. In fact, the grand jury — who served for 13 months on the case — believed there was enough evidence to charge Jon Benet’s parents on counts of Chlld Abuse Resulting in Death and Accessory to a Crime.

Read the indictment here. (PDF)

Then-DA Alex Hunter chose not to present the indictment in criminal court so the Ramseys were never charged. It must be noted that the standard of proof for a grand jury indictment is probable cause. For the Ramseys to have been convicted in court would require the higher evidentiary standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hunter did not comment on his decision not to prosecute the Ramseys in 1999, but Daily Camera reporters spoke to Hunter’s former assistant Bill Wise who agreed with his former boss’s judgment: “You just don’t have the evidence. The totality of everything that was presented by Boulder Police Department was just insignificant to prosecute.”

But Boulder Police were less convinced than prosecutors — and were relieved to be able to speak out on the grand jury findings after being bound by secrecy laws for so long. Police Chief Mark Beckner released a statement revealing that “Investigators at the time were disappointed in the then district attorney’s decision not to issue indictments.” Furthermore, Beckner saw little chance of closing the Jon Benet Ramsey case: “While we believe at this point it is unlikely there will ever be a prosecution,” he stated but with the hope that authorities one day “will be able to put together a case worthy of presenting to a jury.”

Attorneys for John Ramsey, who had earler asked that the entirety of the grand jury record be released, sought to minimize the impact of the indictment without the fuller context of the testimony they relied on. “What you have is nothing more than confusing accusations without any evidence to support the accusations,” Ramsey defense attorney Lin Wood told reporters. “It’s fundamentally unfair to the Ramsey family and the system of justice. If you’re going to make public what amounts to an accusation, let’s see the evidence.”

The fact that a grand jury found enough evidence to indict the Ramseys might never have been made public if not for the reporting and dogged legal challenges of Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan, whose lawsuit paved the way for the document release.

Brennan wrote a first-person piece about the whole secret indictment saga in which he deemed the document’s release as befitting the public’s right to know what goes on in its name. “The courts belong to the people, and transparency of the courts is a central pillar on which our system is based,” Brennan wrote. “There was no transparency — until today — surrounding the Ramsey grand jury’s final days and ultimate decision.”

While the grand jury indictment release ends one chapter of the Jon Benet Ramsey story, the story itself has yet to reach a final conclusion.

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