By John Bacon, USA TODAY
A grand jury investigating the death of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey voted to indict her parents 13 years ago, but the district attorney in Boulder, Colo., refused to prosecute the case, theDaily Camera of Boulder reports.
The bizarre circumstances surrounding JonBenet's death on Christmas night in 1996 drew media attention nationwide. Her strangled body was found in the basement during a second search of her Boulder home several hours after she was reported missing. A ransom note sought $118,000, but apparently no effort to collect it took place.
The newspaper cites multiple sources, including members of the 1999 grand jury, saying John and Patsy Ramsey would have faced charges of child abuse resulting in death, but District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to sign the indictment.
"I and my prosecution task force believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant a filing of charges against anyone," Hunter told reporters outside the Boulder County Justice Center on Oct. 13, 1999. He did not mention the grand jury's vote.
Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006. The Ramseys and their now-adult son Burke were exonerated in July 2008 by then-District Attorney Mary Lacy, based on updated analysis of DNA samples from JonBenet's clothing. "Numerous prosecutors labeled her doing so as both unusual and questionable," the Camera says.
Some jurors - who spoke to the Camera on condition of anonymity - are not sold on the exoneration.
"We didn't know who did what," one juror is quoted as saying. "But we felt the adults in the house may have done something that they certainly could have prevented, or they could have helped her, and they didn't."
"It's still unresolved," another juror said. "Somebody did something pretty horrible that wasn't punished. ... I'm not saying that I am at peace. But I had sympathy with his (Hunter's) decision."
Former Boulder first assistant district attorney Bill Wise was among those confirming the jury's vote. "It names both of them, John and Patsy Ramsey," said Wise, who was Hunter's top assistant for 28 years but did not participate in the grand jury process. Wise says he agrees with Hunter's decision.
Boulder attorney Bryan Morgan, who represented John Ramsey, said there must have been "some very professional and brave people in Alex's office and perhaps elsewhere whose discipline and training prevented a gross miscarriage of justice."
Child abuse resulting in death, when charged as "knowingly or recklessly," is a felony carrying a potential sentence of four to 48 years in prison. The statute of limitations on that charge in Colorado is three years from the date of the crime.
Hunter, who left office in 2001 after 28 years as Boulder County's district attorney, declined to discuss the grand jury's actions with the Camera, but cited "the inviolate secrecy of the proceedings and the differing burdens of proof applicable to jurors and prosecutors."
Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner also declined comment, citing "my oath of secrecy."
Denver criminal defense lawyer and legal analyst Dan Recht stressed to the Camerathat the standard of proof for a grand jury to indict is a far lower threshold than what Hunter would have had to meet at trial.
"It couldn't be more different in a jury trial," Recht says. "So what Alex Hunter was thinking about was, 'But can I prove this beyond a reasonable doubt?' Because that's the burden that the prosecution has at a trial. So he seemingly decided, 'I am not going to be able to prove this child abuse resulting in death beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.'"