Report: Grand Jurors Voted on JonBenet Ramsey Charges in 1999.

JonBenet Ramsey was 6 years old when her body was discovered in her home on December 26, 1996. Today she’d be 22. No one has been charged with her murder.

There were problems from the outset with the collection of evidence and a compromised crime scene and misreporting by the media, which were compounded by infighting between the Boulder police and prosecutors. In 1998, the Governor stepped in, and experienced prosecutors from adjoining counties joined Hunter’s team in presenting the case to a Boulder grand jury. [More...]

The grand jury convened in September, 1998. It met for 13 months. Hunter and the new team of prosecutors consulted and met regularly with other seasoned prosecutors and forensic experts. The grand jury’s term was set to expire on October 20, 1999. The week before, the national media descended on Boulder. Rumors were rampant that a decision by the grand jury was imminent. The case was featured every day that week on all three networks’ nightly news and morning news shows, and of course, every cable talk show.

Very few cases since have generated as much publicity or polarized opinion as the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Yesterday, it made the headlines again, when the Boulder Daily Camera reported that the grand jury that investigated the case in 1999 had voted to indict her parents on charges of child abuse resulting in death (not murder) but then-DA Alex Hunter refused to file charges because he believed there was insufficient evidence to convict. In 2008, Boulder DA Mary Lacey cleared the Ramseys after newly available DNA testing matched the genetic profile found in JonBenet’s underwear to two separate DNA samples on her long johns, and the markers excluded John and Patsy Ramsey and anyone else known to the D.A. (Their son, Burke Ramsey, had been cleared earlier.)

DA Hunter made it clear on October 13 and 14, 1999 when announcing there would be no indictment, that the filing of charges was ultimately his decision, and it was one he made after consultation with the prosecutors from adjoining counties who were working with his office to present the case to the grand jury. Grand jury secrecy rules, for good reason, prevented him from disclosing what occurred before the grand jury.

Hunter made a short impromptu announcement on October 13, 1999, and held a longer press conference on October 14, 1999. On October 13, he said:

The Boulder grand jury has completed its work and will not return. No charges have been filed. The grand jurors have done their work extraordinarily well, bringing to bear all of their legal powers, life experiences and shrewdness.

Yet, I must report to you that I, and my prosecution task force, believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time. Under Colorado law, the proceedings of the grand jury are secret. Under no circumstances will I, or any of my advisers, prosecutors, the law enforcement officers working on this case, or the grand jurors, discuss grand jury proceedings today, or ever, unless ordered by the court.

On October 14, 1999, accompanied by fellow prosecutors on the case, he said:

We have eight career prosecutors with many, many years of service, who together have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to bring charges at this time.

Bob Grant, the most prominent media voice for prosecutors throughout the case and an adviser to Hunter and his team during the grand jury investigation, also spoke at the October 14 press conference:

GRANT: I'm Bob Grant, most of you know me. I'm the district attorney in the neighboring county of Adams. I've been involved in this case since February of 1997, been in the prosecution business for 22 years, elected district attorney next door since 1992. This is not a happy day. Yesterday was not a happy day. There is no satisfaction here in Boulder, there is no satisfaction in this case.

....This case has come to a grand jury posture in the hopes that the use of the subpoena power, the use of the confidentiality and secrecy provisions would, in fact, provide sufficient evidence to take it forward to a public prosecution; that hope hasn't materialized.

Grant dropped a lot of clues the final week of the grand jury investigation, and in the days after the decision not to indict was announced, even though he refused to directly answer the question as to whether the grand jury had voted.

On one show, he explained the difference between a true bill and an Indictment. He said the grand jury had three options.

  • It could return a true bill or return no true bill.
  • It could issue a report.
  • Or it could elect not to vote and simply disband.
The prosecutor is held to a different standard than the grand jury. He or she is ethically duty bound not to file charges unless he or she has a good faith belief the charges can be proven at trial beyond a reasonable doubt.

Looking back now at Grant's statements that week, the new Boulder Daily Camera report makes sense. He all but spelled it out.

The day before the Hunter’s October 13, 1999 announcement, Grant was on CBS (“JonBenet Ramsey’s Death" CBS News Transcripts October 12, 1999). He said:

Certainly, the prosecutors can advise and give their opinion, but the grand jury truly is in charge of this case at this stage and at every stage. If they choose to vote, no matter what the DAs say, they will vote.

When asked what happens if the prosecutor disagrees, he said:

Well, his ethical and legal and professional obligation would be not to submit that true bill as an indictment, if that's what he truly believes. See, the grand jury works on probable cause but also takes all inferences in favor of the people. In other words, if there are credibility questions, they believe people. If there's forensic evidence questions, they believe the forensic analysts. They work without the defense posture, so, you know, the DA has to bring all the other stuff into play and say, 'Well, there's a reasonable likelihood of conviction or not.' Not just probably somebody did it.

On October 13, 1999 Grant was on Rivera Live (as was I) and again refused to say whether the grand jury voted. (No Indictment Is Brought by the Grand Jury in the Jonbenet Ramsey Case and Guests Speculate as to the Reasons CNBC News Transcripts, October 13, 1999), But in chastising constant guilt promoter Wendy Murphy for her comments about evidence she knew nothing about, he said:

What's happened here is that experienced criminal justice professionals have, in fact, reviewed all of this evidence and agreed that there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There is not a prosecutable case. Now you can make all of the statements you want about what you think you know, but you don't know more than you do.

He also said:

I suppose the question is: Just how long have we understood the lack of evidence in the case? And clearly, that's been a problem in the case from the beginning. It's always been a circumstantial case, without a smoking gun. Clearly all of us involved in the case had hoped that the use of the grand jury, its subpoena power, its confidentiality, its secrecy proceedings would lead to additional evidence that would put it over the top. Clearly, you know, Alex Hunter has made an agonizing decision, one that nobody is happy with. Nobody will be happy who's involved in this case until someone is brought to justice.

And there was this deflective answer:

RIVERA: Are you disappointed, personally, that this grand jury chose not to indict anyone?
Mr. GRANT: I am disappointed that the evidence is not able to support a prosecution at this stage, Geraldo.(my emphasis)

The next day, October 14, 1999, on another Show, Grant said:

A number of experienced prosecutors have reviewed all of the evidence in this case, have reviewed everything available to the grand jury, and have concluded that at this stage, at this state of the evidence, there is insufficient evidence to have a reasonable likelihood of conviction.
A little later that morning, on Later Today, there was this exchange between Grant and NBC’s Asha Blake (Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant Talks about the Jonbenet Ramsey Murder Case NBC News Transcripts October 14, 1999):

BLAKE: Bob, I want to talk to you about something you said yesterday to one of our producers. You said 'Alex Hunter is at peace with his decision, and the ultimate decision was made by him. Regardless of what the grand jurors recommended or what his prosecutors recommended, it was his decision to make.' Now, is it possible that the grand jury wanted to indict, but Alex Hunter felt that he couldn't get a conviction, so there was no indictment?

Mr. GRANT: Asha, you've correctly stated a possibility under the law, but let me be very clear. I cannot nor will anyone who is privy to the information discuss what the grand jury did or did not do under penalty of law. I'm not interested in going to jail, so I'm not going to talk about it. But you have, in fact, stated a possibility under the law.

So the clues were there: It was repeated over and over by Hunter and Grant that the decision not to indict was Hunter’s, and that at least a majority of the other District Attorneys agreed with him. What no one put together cogently was that Hunter made the decision even though the grand jury had voted to indict both parents on a lesser charge than murder. Some reporters just got it flat wrong. On NBC Nightly News, on October 14, 1999, reporter Roger O’Neil explained the decision not to file charges to Tom Brokaw this way:

But the special grand jury here in Boulder, after meeting for more than a year, and hearing every bit of evidence the police have assembled, is saying tonight, 'the evidence is stale.' Sources close to the investigation tell NBC News prosecutors wanted an indictment, and they wanted an indictment against the parents, John and Patsy Ramsey.

My position then (from Rivera Live 10/13 and similarly expressed on Hannity , O’Reilly and Paula Zahn that week) never changed from the early days:

To my mind, this case has always had all the earmarks of a violent, brutal, planned murder. This is not the case of parental rage, at least the way I have seen the evidence. The scientific evidence apparently is not there to support an indictment. Perhaps advances in technology will come along that may allow the evidence to be re-evaluated, that may allow someone to be charged. But for right now, if the evidence isn't there, we don't charge someone just because we can't figure out who else might have done it.

My position today, having covered this case extensively from the day after the murder in 1996 through the 2008 exoneration of the Ramseys: There’s very little that is newsworthy in the disclosure of the grand jury vote. Alex Hunter did the right thing in refusing to file an Indictment when the evidence was lacking to support a conviction by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The real culprits in this case, like so many cases today, is the guilt-mongering media, including pundits who just make stuff up. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen aptly put it this way in a 1999 column, Presumed Guilty and Tasteless:

It just could be that an intruder entered that house and killed JonBenet Ramsey. That's a theory, but here's a fact. If the parents are not guilty, then the sickest people in this whole story--aside from the killer--are members of the journalistic lynch mob who have so casually condemned the Ramseys. It's one thing to be wrong. It's another to be cruel.

The grand jury had reams of evidence, forensic results and heard from dozens of witnesses. They watched more than 20 hours of videtaped depositions of John and Patsy Ramsey and heard from forensic experts. The Ramseys did coooperate with the investigation, giving interviews, handwriting samples and consents to search. The author of the ransom note was never established. Later DNA testing excluded the parents. There was significant evidence pointing to an intruder. There was no evidence of prior abuse by the Ramseys. The conclusion of the grand jury and the DA’s at the end of the grand jury remains the same: There was insufficient evidence to charge either one with murder. (Child abuse resulting in death is not murder and the DA’s believed they couldn’t even prove that.) The perpetrator’s DNA is now sitting in the FBI’s CODIS database, waiting for a match. It’s time to stop vilifying the Ramseys. As DA Mary Lacy said in 2008 when exonerating them, they are victims.

It is the responsibility of every prosecutor to seek justice. That responsibility includes seeking justice for people whose reputations and lives can be damaged irreparably by the lingering specter of suspicion. In a highly publicized case, the detrimental impact of publicity and suspicion on people’s lives can be extreme. The suspicions about the Ramseys in this case created an ongoing living hell for the Ramsey family and their friends, which added to their suffering from the unexplained and devastating loss of JonBenet.

For reasons including those discussed above, we believe that justice dictates that the Ramseys be treated only as victims of this very serious crime. We will accord them all the rights guaranteed to the victims of violent crimes under the law in Colorado and all the respect and sympathy due from one human being to another the extent that this office has added to the distress suffered by the Ramsey family at any time or to any degree, I offer my deepest apology.

R.I.P. JonBenet and Patsy Ramsey.

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    Thanks (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:28:17 AM EST

    Thanks for the very informative summary.  The roles of Wendy Murphy and Nancy Disgrace should be long remembered,


    Such a nightmare for the family (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by ruffian on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:09:14 AM EST
    and indeed the community. I hope the perpetrator is identified eventually. Who knows how much more damage has been done?

    It's nice to see when prosecutors.... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by magster on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:18:57 AM EST
    .... serve the public interest and do what they were supposed to do in the face of such intense pressure to indict.

    The first 'disgrace' (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by the capstan on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 10:29:42 AM EST
    was turning a six-year-old into a caricature of a 'beauty queen.'

    I gather it is still being perpetrated--as in something called "Honey-Boo-Boo.'

    That's What is Being Neglected... (none / 0) (#6)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 11:45:21 AM EST
    ...in this post.

    Not that I agree, but because of the whole beauty queen thing forced on a kid, they made it very easy for the press and public to believe that they didn't have the child's best interest at heart.

    Plenty of kids go missing and end with really horrific fate, but only the ones who we don't perceive as good parents, get this kind of treatment.

    It's not right, but pretending these parents were just magically cast as bad, really isn't accurate.


    Having your child compete in pageants (none / 0) (#7)
    by ruffian on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:22:22 PM EST
    is a far cry from murdering her. Even though I find the pageants distasteful on every level, I think making the leap from that to murder is a real stretch.

    Agreed... (none / 0) (#9)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:35:59 PM EST
    ...and that is not what I was suggesting, at all.

    A lot of people thought Patsy Ramsey ... (none / 0) (#10)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:43:07 PM EST
    ... was some sort of abusive, self-indulgent monster for doing that with her daughter. Personally, I always thought the whole thing was rather silly -- both the kewpie doll competitions in which JonBenet was entered, and other people's post mortem reaction to those contests when the Ramseys themselves fell under suspicion for their duaghter's homicide.

    Childhood: (none / 0) (#18)
    by the capstan on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 11:38:31 AM EST
    btw, I never implied, nor meant to, that I thought her parents killed the child.  I just think they killed her childhood.  Look at the face in that picture: above the shoulders,  she is the epitome of an 18- or 20-year old.  Did she ever get to play in a mud puddle?  Or paint herself like an Indian?  Or give herself a haircut (or an eyelash cut)?  How many trees would she have climbed in coming years?  And what, for heaven's sake, if she fell off the monkey bars or fell skating or biking?

    And I am trying to refrain from wondering if some twisted personality was attracted by the childish body and the made-up face.


    Thank you for the update. (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 02:41:32 PM EST
    But to be honest, Jeralyn, I fail to see what public purpose was served by the state's disclosure, some 14 years ex post facto, of the grand jury's votes to return indictments for felony child abuse resulting in death (negligent homicide?) against John and Patsy Ramsey.

    Given the notoriety of the case, grand jurors perhaps felt enormous public pressure to hold somebody accountable for something, anything, in this instance -- and their collective judgment was subsequently proved to be very wrong when a comprehensive DNA analysis on the evidence was performed a dozen years later.

    To be further truthful, I never really had much sympathy for any of the Ramseys before the DNA evidence exonerated the entire family of culpability in JonBenet's death in 2008.

    But now, I find it terribly depressing to think that Patsy Ramsey went to her own grave in 2006 knowing that most people -- shamefully, in the interests of full disclosure, myself included -- believed her to be probably guilty of murdering her own daughter, while her husband John looks for all the world to be a shell of the man he once was because of it all.

    And of course, the cavalier willingness of some U.S. media personalities, i.e., Nancy Grace, to destroy other people's lives for no (justifiable) reason other than their own personal self-aggrandizement is absolutely bone-chilling.

    16 years later, we're still no closer to knowing who would do this horrific thing to a little girl, than we were the day after her body was first discovered. Sadly, history may prove the tragedy of JonBenet Ramsey to be Boulder, CO's equivalent of L.A.'s gruesome and equally notorious murder of Elizabeth Short (aka "The Black Dahlia") back in 1947 -- brutally shocking to the public, sensationalized in the media to the point of tedium, and destined to remain officially unsolved for all eternity.


    I think it serves a public interest (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by ruffian on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:46:12 AM EST
    to remind people that just because a grand jury brings charges, that in itself is not an indicator of guilt. I know that seems like it should be obvious, but it bears reminding the general public with real world examples.

    Well, an indictment is a finding (none / 0) (#17)
    by oculus on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:59:44 AM EST
    of probable cause.

    And every federal press release about an (none / 0) (#22)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:07:03 PM EST
    Indictment ends with a reminder the person is presumed innocent. An indictment is nothing more than an accusation. It is not proof.

    Every set of jury instructions includes the advisement that an indictment is not proof.

    As you well know, probable cause is a threshold to bring a charge. It is not the measure used to determine that someone is guilty.


    Just curious (none / 0) (#15)
    by Amiss on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 08:46:45 PM EST
    Do you feel it was public opinion and Nancy Grace and other media's fault that Casey Anthony was indicted and tried in the death of Caylee?

    I believe that the due process of law ... (none / 0) (#20)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 01:39:37 PM EST
    ... should be allowed to run its course fairly and evenhandedly in accordance with the prevailing rules and statutes, and that a defendant's rights to both receive said due process and be considered innocent until formally pronounced guilty in a court of law is absolutely paramount -- without anyone's thumbs resting upon the scales of justice.

    Casey Anthony was indicted because grand jurors felt there was enough evidence against her in the death of her daughter Caylee to warrant her trial in criminal court. However, a jury of her peers in that criminal trial found that same evidence to be wanting, and set her free. Nuf ced on that.

    But in my honest opinion, the media's obsession with the Anthony case was an outright obscenity, and Nancy Grace had absolutely no phuquing business pronouncing the defendant guilty on a near-nightly basis before a nationwide audience, both prior to, during and after her trial.

    Even though Anthony has been found not guilty in court, her life has been effectively eviscerated because of that biased media coverage against her, and her notoriety is now such that she will always be remembered publicly to her dying day -- regardless of whether or not we think it fair or unfair -- as the mother who committed infanticide.

    Because of that notoriety, Casey Anthony will probably always have trouble getting and holding a job -- because after all, who wants to work with a child-killer, or patronize a business establishment that would dare hire one? She's been set free by a trial jury, and duly sentenced to spend an eternity in Nowheresville Trailer Park by Nancy Grace, et al.

    I mean, who the hell does Nancy Grace think she is -- the Lord Almighty? Her disgraceful conduct over the airwaves has ruined people's lives for no other reason than to satisfy her own twisted vision of the way justice ought to be carried out, and has even driven at least one of her targeted victims to suicide.

    Further, Grace's own history of very questionable conduct as a criminal trial attorney -- for which she was formally admonished by the court on a few occasions -- was such that when one considers her overt bias on the nightly cable TV airwaves, she quite frankly gives prosecutor's offices everywhere a very bad name.

    So, in my considered opinion, Nancy Grace is one sorry-a$$ed excuse for a human being, and CNN / HLN would do well to consign this despicable harpy to their dustbins.

    I hope that answers your question. Aloha.


    Nancy Grace(less) (5.00 / 2) (#21)
    by Zorba on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 03:59:27 PM EST
    should put a sock in it.  I cannot abide her relentless pronunciations of guilt.  She seems to take as a matter of faith that, because someone has been arrested or is a "person of interest," they are automatically guilty.  She seems to never have heard of due process or the presumption of innocence.

    Thanks (none / 0) (#23)
    by Amiss on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:25:23 PM EST
    I really feel similarly and only thought about it because of the recent movie. Only other point (that you brought uo about CA' s employment) although it has nothing to do with guilt or innocence,is her employment history already seems at best, spotty.

    Poor Patsy Ramsey (5.00 / 2) (#19)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 12:52:47 PM EST
    I had empathy for her even though I would have not made the choice to start my daughter's pageant career for her in preschool.  The sexualizing of children is disturbing, but as adults many of us are so terrified of public speaking and it holds us back and we have to join Toastmasters because we never overcame public performance anxiety.  We make our kids take piano lessons and choose their books and often make them read even when they don't want to read.  Patsy was a past beauty queen with a happy satisfying life, so hey, why wouldn't she associate a pageant beginning as a path to happiness?

    I bet she went to her grave though wondering if her daughter's killer was in a pageant audience.  I don't need to beat the woman up, I'm sure she did enough of that to herself when her daughter was killed.  Most parents blame themselves in quiet rooms for such things.

    Link Request (none / 0) (#5)
    by RickyJim on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 11:39:19 AM EST
    The link in the article to a Mary Lacey press conference was to a discussion why charges were not filed against a person named John Karr who had confessed to the crime; I was expecting an explanation to why DNA exonerated John and Patsy Ramsey.  Has it been conclusively demonstrated that the killer's DNA was the one found in the underwear?

    The police and prosecutors ... (none / 0) (#12)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 03:07:44 PM EST
    ... had their reasons for not charging John Karr. I would hazard to guess that there were significant discrepancies between what he told them, and what they knew to actually be true.

    In high profile and notorious cases, it's not all that uncommon for individuals to falsely confess their culpability for the crime to the authorities.

    During the active phase of the investigation into the brutal 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short (aka "The Black Dahlia") in booming postwar Los Angeles, 60 people confessed to having butchered her. All their stories had to be rigorously crosschecked by the police against the available evidence, in order to determine if the confessions would actually hold up.

    A not-insignificant number of these false confessors proved to be psychologically disturbed people who in need of serious professional help, while others were thrillseekers who were seeking some notoriety of their own, for reasons which only they could fathom personally.

    But none of them proved to be her killer, and a lot of precious time and manpower was thus wasted by having to verify such false confessions in the first six months after the crime, which may well have contributed to the fact that the "Black Dahlia" case has since remained on LAPD's books as unsolved to this day.


    sorry, I uploaded the wrong statment (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 05:54:23 PM EST
    Here it is and the links are fixed now. Thanks!

    Touch DNA (none / 0) (#14)
    by RickyJim on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 07:30:43 PM EST
    Thanks Jeralyn.  This is first time I have heard of touch DNA.  I wonder if they verified that the DNA could not have come from a factory worker who handled both the long johns and panties before packaging.  

    didn't realize it had been that long (none / 0) (#8)
    by desmoinesdem on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:34:41 PM EST
    I didn't follow the case closely, but it's a sad story on many levels.