Court papers: Grand jury in 1999 sought to indict JonBenet Ramsey’s parents

Story highlights

NEW: Police chief says "it was difficult to remain silent" about indictments for 14 years

NEW: There likely won't be a prosecution in the case, but police hold out hope, chief says

NEW: D.A.'s decision not to endorse grand jury vote is "exceptionally rare," analyst says

CNN  — 

Previously sealed court documents released Friday show that a Colorado grand jury voted in 1999 to indict the parents of murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death and being accessories to a crime.

The district attorney decided that year, however, not to file charges against John and Patricia Ramsey, saying there was insufficient evidence. In 2008, a new district attorney said new DNA evidence cleared the parents and their son in the death.

A Colorado court ordered the release of the previously sealed court documents, putting new attention on the unsolved 1996 death of JonBenet Ramsey, a girl who won child beauty pageants and whose murder shocked the nation. The pages were sealed in 1999, after the grand jury in the case dispersed without charges being filed.

The court documents show how the grand jury sought to charge each parent with two identical counts.

Read the documents

The grand jury had alleged that Patricia Paugh Ramsey, who died from ovarian cancer in 2006, and husband John Bennett Ramsey “did … 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.”

The grand jury also had 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, 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 documents provide no further details on who that “person” was. The grand jury had accused the couple of committing the offenses “on or between December 25 and December 26, 1996.” JonBenet was found murdered in the basement of the family’s Boulder home the day after Christmas 1996.

Ever since their daughter’s murder, John Ramsey and his late wife maintained they had nothing to do with it.

Ramsey family wants all records opened

On Friday, an attorney for John Ramsey and his family urged the district attorney to publicly open “the entire grand jury record and not just 4 pages from an 18-month investigation that produced volumes of testimony and exhibits.”

The released indictments “are nonsensical,” said attorney L. Lin Wood. “They reveal nothing about the evidence reviewed by the grand jury and are clearly the result of a confused and compromised process. The Ramsey Family and the public are entitled to the benefit of the full and complete record, not just a historical footnote. Fairness dictates that result.”

Wood, in a statement, said the grand jury didn’t have what was later to be “the conclusive 2008 DNA testing that led to the unequivocal, public exoneration of the Ramsey Family by the Boulder District Attorney.”

The murder case is now considered “open,” but it’s a cold case that’s not being actively investigated, Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said Friday. There are no new leads.

Boulder County District Attorney Stanley L. Garnett declined to issue an immediate statement Friday, but a spokeswoman said a statement will be published as as op-ed in Sunday’s Boulder Daily Camera newspaper.

“This case is a Boulder case and the district attorney answers to his constituency: the people of Boulder County,” spokeswoman Catherine Olguin said in a statement. “Also, the issues surrounding the case are complex and nuanced and do not readily lend themselves to a short sound bite.”

Beckner, in a statement, described Friday how “it was difficult to remain silent” about the voided indictments “for so many years.”

The killing may never be solved, and the chief referred to past police conflict with prior prosecutors who had “rejected” efforts to press charges in other cold cases, he said.

“Investigators at the time were disappointed in the then district attorney’s decision not to issue indictments,” Beckner said. “Cases are rarely perfect and often contain conflicting evidence. As a result, the opportunity to present the entire case to a jury may be lost forever.

“While we believe at this point it is unlikely there will ever be a prosecution, the Boulder Police Department still holds out some hope that one day the district attorney and the Boulder Police Department will be able to put together a case worthy of presenting to a jury,” Beckner said.

Legal analysts weigh in

One Denver legal analyst who has been following the case for 17 years said Friday’s revelation was “another extraordinary event in this extraordinary case.”

For a district attorney not to endorse a grand jury’s charge is “exceptionally rare,” said analyst Craig Silverman, who was chief deputy district attorney in Denver for 16 years.

Silverman described the past prosecutors’ decisions in the case as sometimes “bizarre” and “strange” and said “there was so much dissension” in the past between Boulder police and prosecutors.

“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?” Silverman said. “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.”

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the indictments merely show that a majority of the grand jurors felt there was probable cause to charge the parents – a lower standard than proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“It doesn’t precisely say that the grand jury thought they killed JonBenet,” Toobin said. “It’s not precisely clear what they thought they did.”

The grand jury in 1999 didn’t have the DNA findings that emerged in 2008, Toobin said.