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 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.
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.
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.'"
The Ramseys and their now-adult son Burke were exonerated in the case in July 2008
by then-District Attorney Mary Lacy, based on updated analysis of DNA samples from JonBenet's clothing -- although numerous prosecutors labeled her doing so as both unusual and questionable.
Former Ramsey attorney Morgan, however, said, "In the intervening years, the techniques for retrieving and testing DNA improved to the point where it conclusively demonstrated the Ramseys' innocence. "
With Lacy's exoneration of the Ramseys and their son, Burke, in 2008, and the news now that a grand jury in 1999 determined that both parents should face charges, plus the false arrest in 2006 of a confessed intruder suspect, John Mark Karr, and death that same year of Patsy Ramsey, a key witness no matter who the defendant, a case that has seemed star-crossed from the first day might appear farther than ever from seeing a firm resolution.
Current Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, upon taking office for his first term in January 2009, announced he was returning the Ramsey case -- which Lacy had taken over from the police department -- back to the police. And it is with the Boulder Police Department that the Ramsey case now resides.
"The Boulder police are in charge of the investigation, and if the state of the evidence changes to where charges can be filed consistent with Colorado ethical standards for prosecution, I will do so and will say whatever I have to say about this case on the record and in open court," Garnett said recently. "I will have no comment otherwise about the state of the evidence."
Referring to Lacy's exoneration of the Ramseys, Garnett said, "As I have said before, the exoneration speaks for itself. But all that matters to me as district attorney is the evidence, and where it leads. We'll follow the evidence wherever it leads us."
Wise and Grant both question the validity of Lacy's exoneration, and they say Garnett -- and his successors -- are not bound by it.
"It's more inappropriate than anything else," Grant said. "It's not a prosecutorial duty to exonerate people. It's a prosecutorial duty to seek justice and to prosecute the bad guys. If you don't have a bad guy to prosecute, don't exonerate people who are at least peripherally under suspicion. I didn't think it was appropriate at all."
Many observers, taking note of the many problems and conflicts that have plagued the case over the years, have theorized that it could now never successfully be prosecuted, short of a confession backed by corroborating DNA evidence.
But Garnett rules nothing out.
"In my first term, we made cold case prosecution a priority," Garnett said, "and in Ryan Brackley, I have one of the best cold case prosecutors in the United States on my staff. Certainly, the Ramsey case is one of the cold cases we would take great satisfaction in solving and filing and pursuing in court."
A juror, reflecting on the grand jury experience, and Hunter's decision not to prosecute the indictment, emphasized that the entire matter has long been out of the jurors' hands.
"I believe and feel our effort was well executed, the results of which were, as they say, pro bono publico, for the public good," the juror said.
"You say, 'Our job was well done, we gave them an opinion.' What happened after that, we went through all that and you find out that the bottom line was the district attorney felt there wasn't enough evidence to proceed with any further effort in this regard.
"Can he do that? Yes, he most certainly can."