Grand jury wanted Ramsey's parents indicted in daughter's death
On a brilliantly clear autumn day more than 13 years ago, Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter stepped to the podium before an anxious media horde to announce that the grand jury investigation into the death of JonBenet Ramsey had come to an end.
"I and my prosecution task force believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant a filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time," Hunter told the reporters assembled outside the Boulder County Justice Center on Oct. 13, 1999.
Yet multiple sources, including members of the grand jury, have now confirmed to the Boulder Daily Camera what Hunter did not say that day: The grand jury voted to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death in connection with the events of Christmas night 1996 -- but Hunter refused to sign the indictment, believing he could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
One legal expert, however, believes Colorado law may have obligated Hunter to at least sign the indictment, even if he elected not to prosecute the case.
"We didn't know who did what," one juror told the Camera, "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."
Boulder attorney Bryan Morgan, who represented John Ramsey through the conclusion of the grand jury process, said Saturday, "If what you report actually happened, then there were some very professional and brave people in Alex's office and perhaps elsewhere whose discipline and training prevented a gross miscarriage of justice."
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.
Child abuse resulting in death, when charged as "knowingly or recklessly," is a Class II felony that carries 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.
Legal experts are unsure whether Hunter's decision not to sign the indictment agrees with Colorado grand jury law.
In an email, University of Colorado Law School professor Mimi Wesson, who followed the Ramsey case, "The Colorado statute governing grand jury practice says ... that ‘[e]very indictment shall be signed' by the foreman of the grand jury and the prosecuting attorney."
In the event that the grand jury voted to indict on charges that Hunter did not believe he could prove at trial, Wesson said it is her opinion that proper legal procedure would have been to sign the document, file it with the court and then move in open court to dismiss the charges.
"That would be the more transparent and responsible course, in my opinion," Wesson wrote.
Hunter, who left office in 2001 after 28 years as Boulder County's district attorney, declined to discuss the grand jury's actions, but he did issue the following statement last week via email:
"Colorado statutes, the ethical canons which govern the practice of law, and the Boulder District Court's oaths, instructions and orders in the JonBenet Ramsey grand jury proceedings, are well established and absolutely clear with respect to the various participants' legal obligations, duties and responsibilities, including the inviolate secrecy of the proceedings and the differing burdens of proof applicable to jurors and prosecutors.
"As the duly elected district attorney at the time and as an officer of the court then and now, I must respectfully decline further comment."
Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner also would not discuss the Ramsey grand jury.
Denver criminal defense lawyer and legal analyst Dan Recht pointed out that the standard of proof for a grand jury to indict, which is probable cause, 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 added. "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.' "
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