JonBenet Ramsey was the victim of child abuse, according to a 14 year old grand jury finding released Friday. A Colorado judge ordered the release of four pages of findings in the JonBenet Ramsey case in response to a lawsuit brought by a Daily Camera newspaper reporter in Boulder.
But what difference does it make now?
For the record, the grand jury indicted JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, on two counts of child abuse. It concluded, after more than a year of deliberations, that JonBenet was “unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child’s life or health, which resulted in the death of JonBenet Ramsey”.
The grand jury did not indict the Ramseys on murder charges, but it did conclude that they had done something to help a third party “knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of murder in the first degree and child abuse resulting in death.”
The release of the court papers – and the grand jury finding that JonBenet Ramsey was the victim of child abuse – would seem little more than an historical footnote to a sensational murder trial. And one that’s hard to evaluate. While the judge ordered the release of the signed indictments, he did not release any of the evidence on which those charges were based.
Alex Hunter, the Boulder County prosecutor at the time, knew that evidence well and still decided not to prosecute. He did not comment on Friday, but people who worked with him in the district attorney’s office still feel it was the right decision. The legal standard for a grand jury indictment is probable cause. A conviction at trial requires prosecutors to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They didn’t think they had the evidence to do that.
The murder of the six-year-old beauty queen transfixed the nation. Coming as it did on the heels of the OJ Simpson murder trial, a court-obsessed public could not get enough. Pictures of JonBenet, wearing clothes and make-up that seemed way too grown-up for a girl still in kindergarten, were carried by newspapers across the country.
At first, the case seemed cut and dried. JonBenet was found murdered in the basement of her home on the day after Christmas 1996. Despite their repeated denials, suspicion seemed to center on her parents. But neither were ever formally charged. No one was. The investigation dragged on – from weeks to months to years – and still authorities seemed no closer to cracking the case.
The Ramseys were officially cleared in 2008, more than ten years after the murder. Then-District Attorney Mary Lacy sent a letter to John Ramsey, informing him that new DNA tests proved that neither he nor any member of his family had committed the murder. Her office, Lacy wrote, would now treat Ramsey family members as victims not suspects. The news came too late for Patsy Ramsey, who died in 2006 after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer.
So after nearly 17 years the case remains ice cold. And there’s little optimism that the investigation will move forward despite the release of the grand jury findings that JonBenet Ramsey was the victim of child abuse.
Written by Mike Clancy
The New York Times