calling for a Grand Jury
Quote:1998-03-12: BPD-PR #65 - Police ask District Attorney to convene a grand jury in Ramsey investigation

March 12, 1998
Contact: Jennifer Bray, Media Relations, 441-3090

Police ask District Attorney to convene a grand jury in Ramsey investigation

(Ramsey Update #65)
Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby and Commander Mark Beckner today requested and recommended that the Boulder District Attorney convene a grand jury investigation into the homicide of JonBenet Ramsey. While there is still some investigation left to be done, both Chief Koby and Commander Beckner believe the investigation has progressed to the point at which the authority of a grand jury is necessary in order to have a complete investigation. A grand jury can be utilized to obtain sworn testimony, to obtain items of evidentiary value not otherwise available through routine investigative methods, and to review the case for purposes of seeking an indictment against the person or persons responsible for the death of JonBenet.

Commander Beckner has worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office in recent weeks in preparation of the recommendation for a grand jury. According to Beckner, “We only make this request/recommendation after 14 grueling months of investigation, much consideration and thought, and after consultation with attorneys familiar with, and experienced in the use, of grand juries. We believe the investigation has reached the point at which a grand jury will be very helpful in completing the investigation, thus, our recommendation to the District Attorney.”

As the investigation progressed in recent weeks, the direction the investigation should take became very clear. As stated at a Dec. 5, 1997 news conference, the police were working toward one of three options:

--- Seek an arrest warrant and prosecution --- Ask for a grand jury investigation, or --- Inactivate the case until such time that additional information becomes available

Out of a task list that has now grown to 90 tasks, 64 tasks have been completed or worked on as thoroughly as possible. “The longer we worked on the case, the clearer it became that inactivating the case would not be appropriate,” said Beckner. “The appropriate step at this time is to ask for a grand jury to assist us in gathering additional admissible evidence.”

The next step will be for the police to assist the District Attorney’s Office in the review of case files and evidence. Given the volume of information gathered to date, it is expected that it will take some time for the District Attorney’s Office to complete it’s review of the case files prior to any decision being made. “We have worked well with the DA’s Office in the last five months and I expect to work even closer with them in the months to follow,” added Beckner.

From Steve Thomas deposition:

Q. You've been in the business long enough to know that the grand jury can, as they say, indict a
ham sandwich, right? It doesn't take much evidence to indict or arrest, does it, sir?

A. My understanding of probable cause is facts and evidence and circumstances that are within the
knowledge of a police officer that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that, A, a crime was
committed and B, that a particular individual was involved. Sometimes, depending on the case, that can
sometimes be a great threshold.
Q. And sometimes it can be a very small threshold, true?
A. A lesser threshold.
Ramseys endorse grand jury investigation
Lawyers' letters lash out at Boulder police
By MATT SEBASTIAN, Camera Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 17, 1998

The parents of JonBenet Ramsey are "eager to assist" a grand jury investigation into their daughter's murder, although the couple's attorneys argue the panel also should examine the Boulder Police Department's handling of the highly publicized case.

"If referral of this case to a grand jury means that this investigation will at last be in the hands of competent and unbiased professionals, we welcome it," John and Patsy Ramsey's attorneys said Monday in a letter to Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter.

But the Ramseys' legal team made it clear the parents of the slain 6-year-old will have nothing to do with the Boulder Police Department.

"We have lost all confidence that the police can be either fair or objective," the attorneys wrote. "No investigation of this extraordinary case would be complete or thorough if it did not also review the conduct of the investigation over the past 15 months."

The letter to Hunter comes just four days after Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby and Cmdr. Mark Beckner, the lead Ramsey investigator, asked the district attorney to convene a grand jury in hopes of solving the case. It is signed by Hal Haddon and three other lawyers representing the couple.

Hunter has yet to decide whether to comply with the police request.

JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in her parents' 15th Street home Dec. 26, 1996.

More than a year later, police have made no arrests and have named no suspects, although Beckner has said the girl's parents remain "under an umbrella of suspicion."

Suzanne Laurion, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said Monday, "We did receive the letter, and we're not going to have a comment."

The Ramseys' attorneys Monday also released a recent letter to Beckner accusing the police department of "incredibly unprofessional conduct."

"Because the investigation is thoroughly flawed, there is little hope of 'solving' the crime unless authorities can 'pin it on the Ramseys,'" the attorneys wrote in their letter to Beckner.

"It is our perception that the investigation is hopelessly compromised not only because of initial police errors but because your department has publicly leaked its reports and the existence of important physical evidence."

Jennifer Bray, Boulder city spokeswoman, said Monday she had been in contact with Beckner, but, "We have no response."

The letters aren't the first time the Ramseys or their lawyers have lashed out at police. John and Patsy resisted formal interviews with police until late last April, lambasting police over negotiations before the interviews took place and insisting on seeing police reports on the case before the interviews.

In recent refusals for second interviews, police said the Ramseys insisted on access to evidence in the case as one of the conditions for a meeting.

In both letters, the Ramsey attorneys berate police for repeated press leaks — especially surrounding negotiations to secure a new interview with Burke Ramsey, JonBenet's 11-year-old brother.

"In a media campaign orchestrated to pressure you into using a grand jury, Cmdr. Beckner and his strategists have consistently used the press to announce interview requests of the Ramseys rather than simply making a request in confidence," the attorneys wrote in their letter to Hunter.

"You have been quoted as saying that a grand jury may be appropriate to secure the Ramseys' cooperation," the attorneys wrote to Hunter. "There has not been a single request from your office for evidence, information or interviews which has not been honored. Now that the investigation has been turned over to objective and competent professionals, the Ramsey family is eager to assist."
The BoulderNews Ramsey Archive

Articles from the Daily Camera

Reports of Ramsey grand jury 'premature'
Monday, December 1, 1997
Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter yesterday denied reports he will soon ask a grand jury to investigate the murder of JonBenet Ramsey and consider indictments in the nearly year-old case.
"I don't want to comment on that," he said. "I've said all along that it's been an option."
Hunter added that even if he did ask for a grand jury to consider charges in the case, he would not disclose it publicly. "I don't think that I would make any effort-it's not the kind of thing that you put in a press release," he said. "No, I would not make a disclosure."
By law, grand juries operate in secret until they return an indictment or release a report. Asked whether such a body has already been called to hear evidence, Hunter replied, "It has not happened, and if it had, I wouldn't tell you."
Hunter's spokesperson, Suzanne Laurion, said, "Absolutely no decision has been made. It's premature to talk grand jury." She added, "This whole thing is certainly more media-driven than it is reality-driven." Laurion said the reports were nothing new, and that the DA's team has been considering a grand jury for months, in addition to other options.
Legal experts said there are a number of advantages to a grand jury investigation, including allowing Hunter to demonstrate that he has taken some action in the case. To date, Hunter has filed no charges after almost 11 months of investigation.
CU law professor Christopher Mueller said, "The criticism that Hunter has been bombarded with for the last year could be partly answered by putting in front of a grand jury everything that his office and the police have unearthed about the case." He said if a grand jury decided to pursue an indictment, Hunter would proceed with prosecution, but if not, he would be vindicated for not bringing charges in the Dec. 26, 1996, slaying of the 6-year-old beauty queen in her Boulder home.
"If the grand jurors looked at the evidence presented and decided that charges are not warranted, that would mean that Hunter was absolutely right in not bringing charges," he said.
CU law professor Mimi Wesson, a former federal prosecutor, said a grand jury proceeding can provide a prosecutor with political cover if he or she is concerned about being blamed for charging, or not charging, a defendant with a crime. It also gives the prosecutor an opportunity to get feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence gathered.
Her colleague William Pizzi, another former federal prosecutor and CU law professor, agrees. "Here we have an investigation that is continuing and continuing, and this is a way to get some input on it from a group of citizens and that is a certain political protection to a prosecutor...," he said.
In Boulder County, a grand jury was seated in the fall of 1996 but has yet to hear a case, said Hunter. The body, consisting of 12 jurors and several alternates, is charged for 18 months and has wide-ranging power to subpoena any witnesses who may have evidence or information about a case.
"A grand jury can compel testimony and compel the production of documents that a prosecutor or a police officer can't," said Wesson. That means uncooperative witnesses could be called to give testimony or face contempt charges.
Mueller said Hunter would not be limited by the rules of evidence that govern an actual criminal trial. "He can put in front of them hearsay and rumor or anything that he believes helpful in considering the case," he said.
However, if JonBenet's parents John and Patsy Ramsey or her 11-year-old brother, Burke, who has never been questioned in the matter, were asked for testimony in any future grand jury investigation, compelling their presence could be difficult. The couple, now living in Georgia, cannot be summoned by subpoena power alone because jurisdiction ends at the state line.
Hunter said it would take a very involved process in the court system where the individual lives, which varies from state to state.
Said Wesson, "I think it would be difficult. Generally, state courts do not have the power to compel the testimony of persons from outside the state."
In state-level grand jury proceedings, witnesses have the option of having an attorney present, according to Wesson. However, the attorney cannot call other witnesses or raise objections.
A unanimous vote is not necessary to return an indictment; just nine of 12 grand jurors have the power to return one.
Grand jury investigations are somewhat rare in Boulder County, said several of the legal experts. "There has not been much grand jury practice in Boulder," said Wesson.
Said Pizzi, "I don't recall a grand jury in the Boulder County area. It's a very rare occurrence."
Hunter said he has used a grand jury several times in his 25 years as the district attorney, but could not recall the exact number.

Contact the NewsRoom or BoulderNews.
Copyright 1997 The Daily Camera. Any copying, redistribution, or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of The Daily Camera is expressly prohibited.
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The BoulderNews Ramsey Archive
Articles from the Daily Camera

Grand jury a controversial part of legal system
Camera Staff Writer

Sunday, December 7, 1997
Rooted in the 13th century reign of King Henry III of England, the grand jury was designed originally to protect common citizens by preventing oppressive prosecution by the crown. Ensconced in the U.S. Constitution by the Founding Fathers (albeit just barely; it is mentioned once in the Fifth Amendment), many modern judicial experts find it archaic in both style and purpose.
Although it is a storied piece of the American judicial tradition, few citizens outside law enforcement and the legal community know what a grand jury is, why it is used and how it operates.
Each state and the federal government makes different rules governing grand juries. Federal criminal cases always go through a grand jury. Some states, such as Illinois, routinely refer major criminal cases to a grand jury.
But Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter has largely eschewed their use in Boulder County. The last grand jury investigation in the county was for a 1990 drug case, according to Daily Camera files.
In Colorado, counties with a population of more than 100,000 - including Boulder County - must have a standing grand jury of 12 jurors and four alternates chosen from the at-large jury pool. Under state law, such permanent grand juries may not be seated for more than 18 months, but may be dismissed by the district attorney before that term has expired. Although citizens may contact a grand juror and make certain requests, only the district attorney may convene the jury.
A grand jury has sweeping investigative powers that go beyond even what police and prosecutors may use. A grand jury has the power to subpoena witnesses - including those from out of state, subject to rules and conditions laid out in the Colorado Revised Statutes - and documents that investigators may not have been able to obtain during a conventional probe.
Basically, a grand jury investigation takes the place of a preliminary hearing in a criminal case, during which prosecutors present evidence seeking a "probable cause" ruling that will allow them to proceed with prosecution. Just as in a preliminary hearing, the defense is not allowed to present evidence.
"Its very much at the discretion of the district attorney," said First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wise. "One of the reasons we dont use a grand jury very often is that we believe we (prosecutors) are paid good money to make these kinds of decisions."
As in a preliminary hearing, the standards of evidence to bring an indictment - essentially the go-ahead to bring charges against a suspect - are lower than for a full-blown criminal trial, in which jurors must find a defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt" of guilt. In both a preliminary hearing and a grand jury proceeding, the standard is "probable cause."
Wise explains it this way: If "beyond a reasonable doubt" is viewed as 75 to 80 percent certainty of guilt, "probable cause" would be closer to 51 percent certainty.
Rules of evidence are relaxed in a grand jury proceeding, Wise said, so hearsay - second- or third-hand information - can be presented on the witness stand. In a criminal trial, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict to convict, but in a grand jury investigation, only nine of 12 jurors must concur to hand down an indictment.
A judge is assigned to any grand jury proceeding, but is not present during presentation of evidence. Witnesses called before the grand jury may be advised by an attorney, but the attorney may not address the jury in any way. The attorney is allowed to stop the proceedings and refer matters to the judge for clarifications or rulings, however.
Far more controversial is the fact that grand juries by law operate in secret. Indeed, potential defendants may not even know that they are being investigated by the grand jury - even when an indictment is handed up. They may not know until they are arrested and charged for a crime.
Even some prosecutors dont like the secrecy of a grand jury.
"We are not real fond of the secrecy of it," Wise said. He said grand juries have been abused in the past, even in Boulder County, through selective indictments and by corrupt politicians seeking to smear opponents.
In a 1977 interview with the Daily Camera, Hunter acknowledged public concerns over the secrecy of grand juries.
"No matter how fairly a prosecutor tries to conduct a grand jury investigation, some people are never satisfied with the results, because they have no real way of knowing what actually happened in a grand jury proceeding, and I think its fair to say a DA is in the position to orchestrate grand jury proceedings to some extent," he said.
In 1974, the Colorado Legislature added the language "Grand jury should not be used in routine cases or for political or other improper purposes." The change was inspired by a former Pueblo County prosecutor who used his power to convene grand juries to investigate political opponents. The prosecutor in question then wrote his own grand jury reports to smear opponents, even when the jury did not hand down an indictment. In another change, the Legislature gave the power to disclose the reports exclusively to judges.
There are several legitimate, commonly accepted reasons to refer a case to the grand jury.

[*]Recalcitrant witnesses. If investigators have been unable to secure interviews from potential witnesses, the grand jury may compel them to appear. However, all adult citizens have the right to refuse to testify under the Fifth Amendment. The grand jury may grant witnesses immunity from prosecution.
In drug-ring or organized crime cases, prosecutors may want to subpoena bit players and grant them immunity from prosecution as a way to reach more important suspects, Wise said.

[*]Documents: If investigators have been unable to obtain documents, the grand jury may compel their surrender.
"This is probably not a very good reason," Wise said. "You can compel people to give up (documents) by using search warrants."
To secure testimony under oath for future criminal proceedings: Less well-known than other justifications, prosecutors may go to a grand jury to secure testimony in a case that may be broken years down the line. For example, a murder investigation in which police cannot file a solid case may break open years later with a confession or slip of the tongue by a suspect or witness. In such cases, testimony secured under a previous grand jury can be used in a criminal proceeding.
"Its to preserve testimony, in case witnesses are lost" or die, said Forrest Lewis, president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association.

[*]"Second opinion:" A grand jury may bolster a prosecutors decision to file or not file criminal charges, lending credibility to that decision.
And there is at least one less noble reason to go to a grand jury: Politics. Police and prosecutors may resort to a grand jury in a complex, high-profile case where the public demands that justice be served, but the case assembled will not likely result in a conviction - or even is not strong enough to legitimately file charges.
"If you think theres going to be media or public criticism of a case, then you can politically put it in front of a grand jury, in front of citizens, and say they decided to file (charges) or not to file," Wise said.
But he said such "political" justifications are considered anathema to ethical prosecutors.
"You should be looking at a 12-person jury that can (convict) beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "Whether its making a decision on a grand jury, or filing criminal charges, in my opinion its unethical for a prosecutor to file a case he believes is at that 51 percent" of certainty. He said prosecutors are ethically obliged to file only cases in which they have reason to believe a jury could convict "beyond reasonable doubt."

Contact the NewsRoom or BoulderNews.
Copyright 1997 The Daily Camera. Any copying, redistribution, or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of The Daily Camera is expressly prohibited.
Forrest Lewis of Denver, president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association. "It's stacked very much against suspects, and very much in favor of charging people. It's not a process you would choose if you are a defense attorney."
Colorado Revised Statutes make clear that a grand jury is tilted toward the government: "The court must draw all inferences in favor of the prosecution."
The request was made because the police investigation "has not yet resulted in sufficient admissible evidence to convict anyone of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey," said a statement from the district attorney's office.
Hunter will review the investigative file to decide if a grand jury will advance the case - a decision that "is going to take a long time," according to the district attorney's spokeswoman, Suzanne Laurion.
A grand jury could subpoena witnesses who refuse to talk to police - such as JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, who recently rejected requests for additional interviews.
If Hunter decides to send the case to a grand jury, it won't go to the current panel, which ends its 18-month term in May.
Boulder District Judge Joseph Bellipanni has decided the selection of the next grand jury will begin April 22. A panel of 140 Boulder County residents, drawn from driver's license and voter registration records, will be narrowed to 12 jurors and four alternates.
Police haven't completed work on the Ramsey case. Cmdr. Mark Beckner, who took over the investigation in October, said 64 of the 90 tasks he has outlined are finished or worked on as thoroughly as possible.
"The longer we worked on the case, the clearer it became that inactivating the case would not be appropriate," Beckner said. "The appropriate step at this time is to ask for a grand jury to assist us in gathering additional admissible evidence."

March 1998 news story
From Westward - Alan Prendergast
In the summer of 1998, lead detective Steve Thomas abruptly quit the force, blasting Hunter in his resignation letter and saying that the DA's office had "effectively crippled this case." The Whites marked the occasion with a lengthy letter "to the people of Colorado," detailing their suspicions that the long-awaited grand jury had been deliberately delayed for more than eighteen months to serve several agendas. They had learned that an obscure new law, pushed by the Colorado District Attorneys Council in 1997, allowed a grand jury to issue reports in first-degree murder cases in which an indictment wasn't returned; the reports could even include a public exoneration of the unindicted. But the new law would only apply to juries convened after October 1997. People interested in obtaining a public absolution of the Ramseys would have to get the matter before a jury seated after that date.

"The people running the investigation had long ago decided against filing charges in the case," the Whites wrote. "Their motivation for presenting the case to a grand jury has little or nothing to do with obtaining new evidence, grilling 'reluctant' witnesses or returning an indictment, and everything to do with sealing away facts, circumstances and evidence gathered in the investigation in a grand jury transcript."

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