Reconsidering JonBenet: A Grand Jury Once Voted to Indict the Ramseys, and That Matters

Date Published 01.29.13

Another great post by writer Steve Huff.  Follow him on Twitter @stevehuff.


JonBenet Ramsey died on December 26, 1996. We’ll never really know what happened that cold night in Boulder, in the basement of the Ramsey home. All that’s left is supposition and speculation.


JonBenet Ramsey

JonBenet’s mother, the vain, haunted, troubled Patsy Ramsey, died in 2006. Her funeral was held in a church less than a mile from where I lived at the time and I recall driving by as the service was held, seeing the parking lot full of cars, and wondering if the killer was in there. If he was in the congregation, a solemn expression masking secrets. Or perhaps the killer was in the casket, her essence gone to contend with either nothing or her daughter’s ghost, depending on what you believe.

Earlier this week, The Boulder Daily Camera revealed that about 3 years after JonBenet’s death, a Boulder Grand Jury did indeed come to a decision about the case: they voted to put John and Patsy Ramsey on trial for their daughter’s death. Fortunately for the Ramseys, Boulder’s D.A. at the time, Alex Hunter, didn’t want to go forward with the case. The Daily Camera’s Charlie Brennan writes:

The grand jury voted to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death in connection with the events of Christmas night 1996 -- but [Alex] Hunter refused to sign the indictment, believing he could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Members of the grand jury spoke anonymously to the paper and confirmed they felt the Ramseys should stand trial for “knowingly or recklessly” committing an act of child abuse that caused their daughter’s death--a Class II felony in Colorado that could have sent the couple to prison for nearly 50 years, if convicted.

Though some in his office agreed with the finding, Alex Hunter didn’t go forward. The mystery persisted.

For anyone who has blogged or written about crime at all in the past 13-14 years the enduring mystery of who killed JonBenet has inevitably come up. The same is likely true for anyone who has discussed crime on a true crime-themed message board or forum. The subject has prompted heated, fierce discussions. Hashing out theories of what really happened the night the 6-year-old beauty queen ended up dead in a dark cellar room has probably ended friendships, created rivalries and fomented spin-off obsessions. Unstable people like John Mark Karr (a trans woman who now goes by Alexis Reich) have adopted the case for their own twisted ends. Karr, for a time, seemed the ideal answer to the question of who killed JonBenet. He claimed he did it, he knew many of the more obscure details of the crime by heart, and he just seemed to fit.

But Karr in the end was a deeply troubled man seeking a dark sort of legacy. He might have had his secrets, but the murder of JonBenet wasn’t one of them.

Still, after Karr created a huge stir in the news around the case in 2006 all the old questions were rehashed once again.

All the reading I’d done didn’t answer questions for me. I swung between believing there was a particularly stealthy predator out there, one clever and controlled enough to breach the home of a wealthy family in a low-crime city on a wintry holiday night then lay in wait for his prey--and believing in the end the statistics were against John and Patsy. According to at least one of those statistics, three to five children a day are killed by their parents and up to 200 mothers a year kill their own children.


Patsy Ramsey

Then, in July of 2008, two years after Patsy Ramsey was laid to rest beside her daughter in a small cemetery on a quiet suburban street in Marietta, Georgia, then-Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy dropped yet another bomb on the case. John and Patsy were off the hook, reported the D.A., because DNA tests indicated some “unexplained third party” had been with JonBenet that night, after all.

I felt relieved. I didn’t want to believe the statistics. No matter how much I study crime, blog about it, write about it, report on it, some fundamental part of my brain still wanted to believe there was no way the Ramseys, whatever their personal problems, could do such a thing. Not at Christmas. Not ever.

But now we’ve come back around to find that after delving deeply into the evidence in the case for over a year, a number of solid Colorado citizens did indeed conclude John and Patsy Ramsey had something to hide. Only the head prosecutor’s ultimate conclusion he couldn’t fight reasonable doubt kept the Ramseys out of court.

The Boulder Police have the case now. Though it’s an evergreen subject for Internet discussion and intermittently bursts into the news cycle again for another round of rehashing and gnashing of teeth in the media, it is almost as cold as Jack the Ripper, or the Zodiac Killer.

After Mary Lacy pointed away from the Ramseys, I decided she might be right to exonerate them. Friends on one discussion forum tried to convince me otherwise and I’m gratified that for a discussion of its kind, it was very civil. As recently as two weeks ago one of those friends even messaged me via Facebook to suggest I read a new book on the case that might make me reconsider the Ramseys. Out of respect for my friend I said I would, even though I doubted it would change my mind.

The murder of JonBenet Ramsey, though, will never be that simple a subject. The new revelation regarding the Grand Jury finding kicked blocks out from under theories I had concluded were pretty solid.

Upon reading the The Daily Camera article I recalled a hot Georgia summer day after hearing that the Ramseys were no longer suspects. I was in Marietta so on a whim I drove to the cemetery where JonBenet and her mother were buried. I parked and wondered what sort of strange people came by there (besides strange people like me)--wondered if John Mark Karr/Alexis Reich had perhaps even been there recently, as local news often reported sightings of Karr near his father’s house in an adjacent town.

Looking at Patsy’s headstone beside her daughter’s, I felt bad for her. Even sympathetic portraits of the family as a whole didn’t necessarily portray Patsy in the most positive light, and she didnt’ come across well in interviews--she seemed shrill, vain, sometimes only angry about accusations against her in a distant, disconnected way--but any parent considering the plight of someone who might have been falsely accused of killing their child would feel compassion for what the Ramseys went through.

I live over a thousand miles from there now. Even if I still lived in Georgia I doubt I’d ever visit that location again, as I no longer write solely about crime in general.

If I did visit those graves again, though, I think I might not feel that sympathy upon looking at Patsy’s headstone.

I might hope that there is some kind of afterlife, after all. And hope that once Patsy was there, she found she could no longer refuse to answer so many questions.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.