Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder of JonBenet Ramsey

Testing Time

Finally, after changing their minds several times, Boulder police announced that they would take John and Patsy Ramsey up on their offer to take polygraph tests, and agreed to the Ramseys' terms that the tests be conducted by an independent expert in Atlanta and have the results made public.

The planned tests later stalled when the BPD accused the Ramseys of changing the criteria for the tests when they refused to allow an FBI polygraph examiner to conduct them, as they did not consider them as "independent experts" under the terms of the agreement, and believed that the agency's involvement in the case precluded them from conducting an impartial examination. They also raised concerns that the Boulder police had not agreed to the public release of the test results. That stipulation was later removed.

The disagreements over the tests continued into May, with John and Patsy Ramsey appearing on CNN's Burden of Proof program to describe how they had "come up with some names of individuals that are pre-eminent in their field of polygraphy" and had submitted them to Boulder police, only to have the police reject them all in favor of an FBI examiner.

The Ramseys later proposed that Edward Gelb, a Los Angeles-based polygraph expert, conduct their lie detector tests because he had "earned a national reputation for fairness," but the Boulder police continued to insist on the FBI. The Ramseys selected Gelb, a past president of the American Polygraph Association, from 2,400 other examiners because he was the most experienced, having conducted more than 30,000 lie detector tests in the previous 30 years and had been an instructor to both the FBI and the Department of Defense. The Boulder police again rejected the proposal.

Several days later, Richard Keifer, the chairman of the American Polygraph Association, announced that the group was willing to provide a qualified examiner and expert to administer the test with the same kind of quality control used by the FBI. Keifer said a lie detector test conducted by his group would be fair to both sides. "If they agree to take the polygraph and have us administer it, we will administer it in an independent fashion and make the final decision of who the examiner will be," he said. "We'll give consideration to both sides."

The Ramseys' attorney agreed, saying: "The Ramseys would do it if it would help move the investigation forward, not because they felt they had a responsibility to prove their innocence but if Beckner doesn't sign on, they're taking all the risk and receiving no benefit." He added that in his opinion, the Boulder police were insisting on using the FBI to give the agency a chance to grill the Ramseys. Keifer, who once headed the FBI polygraph unit, confirmed that the FBI interrogates people who flunk the test. "They get a lot of confessions," he said. On May 16, Boulder police officially rejected Keifer's offer.

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