There's a new twist in the already twisted 1996 murder investigation of JonBenet Ramsey — not only did a grand jury vote to indict her parents for child abuse resulting in the six-year-old's death, but the District Attorney in charge of the case ignored their finding and declined to prosecute.
Four pages from the 1999 grand jury session were unsealed yesterday, revealing that at least 12 Colorado jurors believed the government had probable cause to believe Ramsey's parents were involved in her murder.
An attorney for Ramsey's father, John Bennett, said the indictment is nonsensical and reveals "nothing about the evidence reviewed by the grand jury and are clearly the result of a confused and compromised process."
The documents were released after a reporter from the Boulder Daily Camera successfully sued under a Freedom of Information Act Request.
The grand jury indicted both parents on two counts:
On or between Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, 1996 in Boulder County, Colo., [the Ramseys] did unlawfully, knowingly, recklessly and feloniously permit 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, a child under the age of sixteen.
On or between Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, 1996 in Boulder County, Colo., [the Ramseys] did unlawfully, knowingly and feloniously render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, 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 indictment does not specify whether Jon and Patricia are accused of assisting one another or assisting a third party involved in the murder.
The 1999 grand jury considered more than 30,000 pieces of evidence in all — including police assertions that a paintbrush from Patrica's hobby kit was used to tighten a rope choking JonBenet, that the alleged ransom note was written on a notebook from the Ramsey's house, and that the ransom note contained specific, obscure references to the Ramsey's finances.
Alex Hunter, the D.A. at the time, declined to press charges saying that he lacked sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys.
While it is common for prosecutors to obtain indictments due to a lower standard of proof — the old saying is that a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich — a former Denver chief deputy assistant district attorney told CNN that it is "exceptionally rare" for a district attorney to then ignore the grand jury charge.
"Why would a D.A. have a grand jury deliberate and vote if he is not going to pursue the charges that they bring back?" Craig Silverman told CNN. "And did the grand jury come up with those charges on their own? No way. One of the D.A.s had to provide that verbiage."
In 2008, a different D.A., Mary Lacy, said new DNA evidence cleared the Ramseys and their son in JonBenet's murder and suggested a stranger was involved.
Patricia Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006. In 2007, Jon Ramsey allegedly began dating a woman involved in another unsolved mystery — Natalee Holloway's mother. The investigation is still open.
[image via AP]