Boulder DA on JonBenet Ramsey case: I don’t know if I would have refused to prosecute
Posted Oct 28, 2013 7:22 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett says in an op-ed published on Sunday that he doesn’t know if he would have made the same decision as the DA who opted not to prosecute John and Patsy Ramsey.
The Ramseys were accused in a 1999 indictment of placing their daughter, JonBenet, in a dangerous situation and helping a person suspected in the murder. The district attorney at the time, Alex Hunter, never signed the 1999 indictment and refused to prosecute the Ramseys in the 1996 death of their 6-year-old daughter. The parents were cleared by a different DA in 2008 after DNA evidence pointed to another, unidentified suspect.
The indictments were released as a result of a court order.
Garnett writes in the Boulder Daily Camera that he learned of the indictments when he took office in 2009. He had staffers review the documents, and he was told they related to charges for which the statute of limitations had run years ago. Staffers also reviewed the case to see if there was any charge for which there was conclusive evidence that was not barred by the statute of limitations, and he was told there was none.
“It's important to understand the proper role of the DA in the justice system,” Garnett writes in the op-ed. “A DA's job is to file cases where ethical standards are met and to pursue them to justice. District attorneys are not priests; our job is not to forgive, and rarely to ‘exonerate,’ and straying from this role can be very confusing to the public and can create false impressions of certainty about uncertain evidence, subject to conflicting inferences, that has never been presented and tested in open court. Under our system of justice everyone is presumed innocent (or, is 'exonerated'), unless charges are brought and there is a conviction by a jury in open court. …
“These [true bills in the Ramsey case] mean that this grand jury believed there was ‘probable cause’ (a lower threshold standard of proof than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’) based on the evidence they had heard, that the named defendants had committed the crimes listed. That they were not pursued within the statute of limitations means that the DAs with the authority to do so believed that the evidence did not rise to the necessary level to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a jury trial. I don't know if I would have made the same decision, but I know how difficult these decisions are.”
The indictment said John and Patsy Ramsey permitted a child to be "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.” It also said they helped a person "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."
John Ramsey had objected to the release of the indictment without the entire grand jury record. His lawyer said that Ramsey won’t have evidence to disprove the allegations and the public won’t have the ability to evaluate its propriety.
Patsy Ramsey died in June 2006 after a battle with ovarian cancer.