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The Death of Innocence

In the midst of threatening legal action and attempting to counter adverse public opinion, John and Patsy Ramsey made the somewhat untimely announcement that they had signed a book deal with a Nashville-based company that specializes in religious books. In a prepared statement, the Ramseys stated that they had decided that it was time to write the book, to be titled The Death of Innocence, so they could fully explain their side of the story and make the world aware of their innocence and their faith in God.

John Ramsey told a news conference, "We have patiently waited for the justice process to evolve in the matter of our daughter's death. We have remained silent while baseless and slanderous accusations about our family were made by the frenzied media. The time is appropriate to recount our experiences in this tragedy."

Amidst growing criticism and accusations that they were "cashing in" on their daughter's death, the Ramseys announced that any proceeds from the sale of the book would go towards their legal fees and the JonBenet Ramsey Children's Foundation, which the couple established to "help children grow spiritually."

Within days of the book announcement, the Ramseys were again in the news when it was revealed that they had hired L. Lin Wood, a prominent Atlanta libel attorney. Wood, confirming the appointment, stated, "John and Patsy Ramsey are probably the most convicted individuals in recent history who have never been charged with any crime. They're not murderers," he says. "I'm sure of that."

He told reporters that he wouldn't have taken the case if he had thought the Ramseys were guilty, and stated that he is paid on a contingency basis, earning a percentage of any legal settlement won. Wood says the Ramseys have been seriously libeled in the nation's media and he'll begin with a civil suit against The Star supermarket weekly on behalf of the Ramsey's 12-year-old son, Burke.

The Star's front page on May 25, 1999, ran a story under the headline "JonBenet Was Killed by Brother Burke." The paper later printed a retraction.

Wood acknowledged that the Ramseys and their lawyers damaged their credibility by "stage managing" their contact with the media. "A criminal defense lawyer's job is to insulate his client before a criminal investigation. Unfortunately when doing so, that client loses the ability to fight back against the accusations of the media," he said.

Wood wasn't shy in accusing Governor Owens of lying over the governor's statement that the Ramseys hadn't cooperated with the authorities.

"Part of the Ramseys' problem," Wood says, "is that sensational newspapers like The Star, The Globe, the National Enquirer and others are afforded the same First Amendment protections as The New York Times and The Washington Post. You're talking about people who will spend any amount of money as long as there's money to be made," he says.

Star attorney Dori Ann Hanswirth in defending the publication, said, "The Star is an ethical publication that is entitled to all the protections of the First Amendment."

One of Wood's main criticisms of the media was the accusation that the Ramseys have been "acting strangely" after their daughter's murder. Wood himself has had personal experience with sudden loss. "I discovered my mother's body when I was 16 years old," he says. "There was no guidebook to tell me how to look and react in what I experienced. If you think they didn't act right, my advice would be to refrain from that kind of judgment until you've walked in their shoes."

He cited his own struggles after his mother's death. "You just hope you make the right decisions," he says. "But if you don't, you hope that you will be understood and forgiven." Wood believes what happened to the Ramseys could happen to anyone.

The Case Goes Cold

"People's eyes glaze over when you start talking about the First Amendment and privacy," Wood says. "But if we allow the media to try people outside of the judicial system, without any boundaries or limitations, everyone is at risk. Serious journalists need to start asking themselves: Do I want to be judge and jury for this person?"'

John Ramsey tried to have the last word when he told a TV interviewer, "When you've lost a child, nothing else matters... You're rendered as low as you can possibly be without dying," he said. "Our focus was laying JonBenet to rest properly, and that's all that mattered during that time."

Patsy Ramsey added, "I don't know who will want to read it, but if they do, it's going to be there as best we can portray what we've been through in two and a half years," she said.

Governor Owens had his own views on the matter. "If they're innocent, they're sure not acting like they are."

Regardless of ongoing rumors to the contrary, as the months progressed, the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation showed definite signs that it was winding down.

Among other things, the police case files pertaining to the case were placed in storage; the lead grand jury prosecutor, Michael Kane, moved to the East Coast; and case detectives were reassigned to other duties.

Finally, after spending more than $500,000 on the case, Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter announced that his office had run out of money for the case and had no immediate plans to seek additional funding. "We are making no request at this time," said Bill Wise, first assistant district attorney. "That is not to say that we may not have to go back before the commissioners and make a request, but I cannot predict if that will happen."

In addition, when asked if the department had spent any money on the case in recent months, police spokeswoman Jennifer Bray said, "I can't imagine any costs have been incurred at all. Any expense would be very small. The room that detectives had been using is being turned into the major crimes unit's room."

Bray also said that Ramsey investigation files have been "stored away in a secure location." The last four detectives assigned exclusively to the case have been assigned to more recent cases.

It appeared that the investigation had finally run out of steam regardless of the statements made by the key players after the grand jury handed down its decision in October: "We are not going to quit on this case." (Alex Hunter October 14th)

"From the police perspective, this will remain an open, ongoing investigation ... This case is not dead in the water." (Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner — October 14th)

"The right people are now working the Ramsey case.... And I am confident that each day brings us closer to the day when you (the killers) will reap what you have sown." (Governor Bill Owens — Oct. 27th)

Up until that time, the city of Boulder and the state of Colorado had spent a combined total of $2,063,456.42 over three years investigating the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Of those funds, only a miniscule $25,500 remained, which was used to keep grand jury special prosecutor Michael Kane on retainer even though he had moved to Pennsylvania and to keep Hunter's spokeswoman, Suzanne Laurion, on his staff in a reduced capacity.

In mid-November, Boulder County commissioners approved Alex Hunter's $2.9 million budget request for the year 2000, none of which was allocated to the Ramsey investigation.

Fighting Back

By the end of November, John and Patsy Ramsey made it clear how they were going to proceed. "What we wanted and what we continue to want is that the investigation continues, that it be staffed with people that are really experienced in homicides and this type of crime," John Ramsey told a Nashville TV station. "The last thing we want to have happen is for the investigation to be shelved."


As if in answer, prosecutor Mike Kane traveled to Connecticut following the broadcast to examine crime scene evidence in company with noted criminologist Dr. Henry Lee.

At the same time, a Boulder police spokeswoman, Jana Petersen, also confirmed that physical evidence was still being tested.

The Ramseys said they agreed to the interview primarily to promote their book, in the hope that it would spark renewed interest in the case and help to bring the killer to justice.

The following month, they announced through their attorneys that they would be continuing a court action against The Star newspaper and would be seeking $25 million in actual and punitive damages. A statement released by American Media, The Star's parent company, said it would fight the suit and use the libel case as a chance to re-investigate the case.

As 1999 drew to a close, Lou Smit, a former member of the JonBenet Ramsey prosecution team, announced that he was working with John and Patsy Ramsey to prove the theory that an intruder killed their child.

Smit, 63, a former El Paso County homicide investigator and a respected veteran of more than 150 Colorado murder investigations, had previously come out of retirement in March 1997, to work with District Attorney Alex Hunter on the investigation. He resigned Sept. 20, 1998, due to concerns that Hunter's team was wrongly targeting the Ramseys.

After the announcement, Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner was quick to criticize Smit's decision when he told an interviewer:
"It would seem somewhat unethical to do that, to have a police investigator that worked for the DA's office, now consulting with people who are still under suspicion in the case. I don't know how you can assist in a third-party investigation without sharing information that you became aware of as a participant in that investigation on the prosecution side, I don't know where that's possible."

In January 2000, the only activity in the Ramsey case wasn't provided by the police, the DA's office or Lou Smit, but rather by a CBS film crew shooting footage for a television mini-series on the murder investigation of JonBenet Ramsey.

The mini-series, to be called Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, is based on the book of the same name.

Fighting Back — the Deposition

As January came and went, Dr. Lee tabled the findings of his latest forensic analyses but no further action was taken, apart from Dr. Lee telling the press that he still considered the investigation to be a "warm case." Dr. Lee indicated that there was still a lot of evidence to be examined.

By February, the general public had a glimpse inside an active murder investigation when a copy of John Ramsey's deposition, detailing Ramsey's answers to questions relating to his daughter's murder while he was under oath, was made public.

While the lengthy deposition revealed very little in relation to the murder itself, it did reveal on a more personal level how the family dealt with the murder and with the legal and media aspects of the investigation.

One of its more revealing facets was when John Ramsey admitted to being under a doctor's care for almost two years and to taking the anti-depressant Prozac.

At one point in the deposition, John Ramsey is asked if he suspects anyone of murdering his daughter. He answered: "Let me say two things. One, when you have something like this happen in your life, you lose trust.
So do you suspect everyone? Yes," he says.

"Secondly, I try to remind myself not to rush to judgment, as obviously happened in this case, and I don't want to be guilty of that myself."

Ramsey also revealed in the document that an interview he gave on CNN a week after the murder was done at the suggestion of family friend Fleet White, who had been with Ramsey when he discovered his daughter's body in the basement of their home.

The deposition came to light as part of a libel lawsuit filed by photographer Stephen Miles against the National Enquirer and John Ramsey. The lawsuit accused Ramsey of leaking information to the tabloid as to who committed the murder. The lawsuit was eventually thrown out of federal court, but Ramsey's deposition, consisting of about four hours of questioning, was made public by a story in Boulder's Daily Camera newspaper.

Despite the CNN appearance, Ramsey says in the deposition that he wanted to keep the case out of the "media limelight" because he believed that made it more difficult for the police to do their work.

He also revealed that he had not spoken with Fleet White or any member of his family for some time and did not know why the Whites had broken off all contact.

The deposition also describes how the Ramseys, working with their attorneys and others, have tried to crack the case.

"We have spent a lot of time and effort and energy trying to develop leads that we thought were useful," Ramsey attorney Bryan Morgan says at one point. "A lot of junk comes in over the transom, and it's junk. There is also stuff that, in our view, was not junk." Morgan adds that the Ramsey team has tried "to develop some useful lead for the police." Morgan, at the same time, expresses reservations about how such information is handled. "But our experience has been that anytime anything like that is said, then it is immediately leaked and it appears in the tabloids with the worst possible spin on it. And we are extremely leery of that," he says. "And I will say on the record that that has been our experience with the Boulder Police Department as well."

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