DENVER — And we still don't know who killed her.
A grand jury investigating the strangling death of JonBenet Ramsey voted to indict her parents in the shocking Christmas Day slaying of the 6-year-old beauty queen, a judge made public on Friday.
John and Patsy Ramsey, who had always maintained their innocence, “unlawfully, knowingly, recklessly and feloniously” created conditions that resulted in her slaying, the grand jury found in 1999, court documents reveal.
The Ramseys were later apologized to and exonerated by Boulder's district attorney, and the jury indictment went nowhere. The case has since become one of the most frustrating ― and fascinating ― of murder mysteries.
The stark words accusing the parents of child abuse were not elaborated on in the four pages released by the Boulder County District Court. The two counts each parent were to be hit with were:
COUNT IV ― On or between December 25, and December 26, 1996, in Boulder County, Colorado Patricia Paugh Ramsey 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.
An identical indictment contained John Ramsey’s name.
Another document, COUNT VII, alleged that each parent did “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.”
“The grand jury found probable cause to believe that both of the Ramseys were responsible for their daughter’s death,” Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and current defense attorney in the Denver area, told Yahoo News.
But while the grand jury believed there was probable cause to prosecute the Ramseys, the district attorney at the time disagreed.
“Whether it ever means there’s going to be a prosecution, whether it means there’s ever going to be justice for this little girl, I don’t believe it changes anything,” Steinhauser said. But she added that, hypothetically, new evidence could drag the case back into the spotlight.
Lin Wood, John Ramsey’s attorney, was not immediately available for comment, his office said.
Earlier this year, Wood said: "I have known for years that Boulder prosecutors did not file charges against John and Patsy Ramsey because the evidence to prosecute them did not exist.”
The documents certainly aren’t cathartic for anyone — whether for casual observers or for those who obsessively pored over every scrap of evidence for 17 years. Friday’s answers only prompt more questions: Why exactly did the grand jury reach those conclusions? Counts IV and VII were released, but were there others, and what did they say? To whom did the grand jury believe the Ramseys possibly rendered “assistance”?
Answers may never see light because while the court was expected to issue 18 total pages from the grand jury’s report, it released only four after a judge ruled on Wednesday that signed pages in the jury’s report would be made public. Judge J. Robert Lowenbach ordered that pages signed by the jury foreman — also called “true bills” — are the only official documents. The Daily Camera, a local Boulder newspaper, sued for their release.
The murder drew intense international media coverage and snared the imagination of several authors, made-for-TV film producers and amateur sleuths largely because of the horrific way in which she died. But the case also fanned passions because of home-video footage of her dancing — dolled up in adult outfits and pancake makeup — at beauty pageants, the family’s affluence and a bizarre, possibly red-herring ransom note.
In January, the Daily Camera reported that the grand jury had voted in the fall of 1999 to indict the Ramseys on charges of child abuse resulting in death, but Alex Hunter, the district attorney at the time, refused to prosecute. Hunter said he believed he did not have “sufficient evidence to warrant a filing of charges” against the Ramseys.
Friday’s revelations complicate a public exoneration of the Ramseys from more than five years ago.
On July 8, 2008, former District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote John Ramsey a letter that essentially cleared the family, at least in the eyes of her office. She told him that new DNA evidence shifted suspicion from the couple and their son, Burke, who was 9 when his sister was killed. A lab, Lacy said, recovered an unknown male’s DNA from JonBenet’s clothing.
“The match of male DNA […] makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items,” Lacy wrote.
Because the grand jury’s investigation occurred years before the new DNA evidence, it’s impossible to say what effect those findings would have had on the jury’s conclusions.
In that letter, Lacy added in a much more personal tone: “To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry. We intend in the future to treat you as the victims of this crime.” A prerecorded message at her law office in Boulder on Friday said she was not taking calls.
Patsy Ramsey died on June 24, 2006, of ovarian cancer. John Ramsey, now 69, remarried in 2011.
The morning after Christmas in 1996, JonBenet’s father found her dead with her wrists tied and mouth duct-taped in the basement of the family’s sprawling Tudor home in Boulder’s moneyed western edge.
Earlier that morning, Patsy Ramsey called 911 to report JonBenet missing after discovering a ransom note addressed to her husband. The note’s authors said they were “a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction” and tried to exhort $118,000 in exchange for JonBenet’s safe return.
Is this the end of the JonBenet saga, at least for a while?
“I would hate to say that because I think way back after the grand jury, we thought that was the last word.” Steinhauser said. “And I’m not sure there is any such thing in this type of case. It’s a very, very sad case because we’re talking about the death of a little girl, and probably no one is going to be held responsible for that death.”