Reporters Say Grand Jury Indicted JonBenét Ramsey's Parents in 1999
DENVER (CN) - A Colorado grand jury indicted John and Patsy Ramsey for the death of their 6-year-old daughter JonBenét, but it's been kept secret for more than a decade, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press claims in a lawsuit.
Boulder Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee sued Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Stanley Garnett in Boulder County Court, demanding "a certain criminal justice record".
Brennan and the Reporters Committee claim that the District Attorney's Office gave the public "the clear impression" that JonBenét's parents had not been indicted by a grand jury in 1999.
In fact, a grand jury had indicted the Ramseys for child abuse resulting in death, but Garnett's predecessor decided not to press charges, according to the lawsuit.
It would serve the public intense interest to let reporters examine the indictment, the plaintiffs say.
"On December 26, 1996, JonBenét Ramsey, age 6, was found dead in the basement of her family's home in Boulder, Colorado," according to the records request. "An autopsy and initial investigation indicated death was caused by violent means. Since that occurrence, and continuing until this day, the case has been the subject of massive publicity, including television appearances by the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, and two published books concerning the events of the investigation written by John Ramsey. To date, no one has been brought to court for criminal responsibility for JonBenét's death.
"On August 12, 1998, then-Governor Roy Romer and then-District Attorney for the Twentieth Judicial District Alex Hunter announced that the Ramsey murder case would be investigated by a Grand Jury to be empanelled by this Court of the Twentieth Judicial District. Shortly thereafter, that Grand Jury was empanelled, sworn, and charged, and thereafter supervised by this Court.
"On information and belief, on a date shortly prior to October 13, 1999, the Grand Jury voted in favor of an indictment of JonBenét Ramsey's parents, John Ramsey and Patsy Ramsey, for the crime of child abuse resulting in death, a Class 2 felony pursuant to § 18-6-401(7)(a)(I), C.R.S. Also on information and belief, a written indictment was prepared for and signed by the Grand Jury foreperson. However, Hunter elected not to sign the indictment, and not to present it to the district court, but to keep the indictment secret from the general public.
"On October 13, 1999, the Grand Jury investigating the death of JonBenét Ramsey was discharged, and Hunter announced we 'believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant a filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time.' ... This announcement left the public with the clear impression that the Grand Jury had determined not to indict anyone in connection with the death of JonBenét." (The ellipsis marks a citation to an Oct. 13, 1999 story in The Washington Post.)
In March this year, Brennan emailed the district attorney, asking to inspect the indictment. That prompted a dialogue on the legality of disclosing the secret document, the reporter says.
"On March 18, 2013, Karen Lorenz, Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Twentieth Judicial District, wrote to Brennan denying his request to inspect the indictment. The grounds cited were that the public disclosure of records such as that described in Brennan's request would be contrary to Colorado Rule of Criminal Procedure 6.2, providing that grand jury proceedings are secret, and that accordingly the disclosure of the documents would be contrary to law and therefore the public interest.
"On June 27, 2013, Thomas B. Kelley, as attorney for Brennan, and also as attorney for RCFP, wrote Garnett requesting that he reconsider the position taken by Lorenz in her March 18, 2013 letter. Kelley's letter contended on behalf of his clients that: (1) the indictment that was voted upon, prepared for, and signed by the foreperson of the Grand Jury was a record of official action that must be disclosed under the [Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act]; or, alternatively, (2) the indictment at least warranted the status of a grand jury report, which should be submitted to this Court for consideration of disclosure to the public. The letter further argued that to the extent the district attorney is authorized to prevent an indictment from going forward by refusing to sing it, his actions in taking such action should be fully disclosed to the public. By this letter RCFP joined in Mr. Brennan's original request to inspect the indictment, as explicated in the Kelley letter." (Citation to email request omitted.)
Though Brennan's requests were rejected, the district attorney agreed that disclosure would not hurt the continuing investigation into JonBenét's murder, according to the complaint.
On July 1, according to the complaint, the District Attorney's Office sent an email stating: "While we have ultimately decided that we must refuse your request, we have found many of your arguments persuasive, and we have taken seriously your request that we reconsider the question of what is required by the public interest in these unusual circumstances. This office has spoken with Chief Beckner of the Boulder Police Department in order to determine whether, in the view of his Department, the release of documents like the ones you describe could hamper ongoing or future investigations. He believes there is no such risk. As such, our refusal to provide these documents is based solely upon our concerns regarding the legality of such a disclosure."
Brennan and the Reporters Committee seek and order to show cause why the indictment should not be released, and a hearing and a status conference.
They sued Garnett under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act.
They are represented by Thomas Kelley with Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Denver, and Marianne Wesson with the University of Colorado.