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DA weighing several factors

by DeeDee Correll
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER —With his first assistant district attorney and close friend leaving office at the end of the year, District Attorney Alex Hunter says he remains conflicted about whether he should run for another term.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mary Keenan declared in December she is a candidate for Hunter's seat, even if it means running against him.

Boulder attorney Ben Thompson has also declared himself a candidate, joining Keenan in promising significant changes in the office Hunter has run since 1972.

Whether Hunter will be on the November ballot or step aside will dictate the decision of Senior Trial Deputy Trip DeMuth, who wants to run for district attorney, but not if his boss is in the race.

For months, Hunter has weighed several factors in his decision.

One of the biggest, he said Friday, is whether he wants to come back without the man who has been at his side his entire career.

Spending time with his family is another major consideration, as is the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation.

"I've got my heart in it," Hunter said.

On Tuesday, famed criminologist Henry Lee, Ramsey special prosecutor Mike Kane, Hunter and others will meet to discuss how viable the case is — three months after a county grand jury ended its query into the mystery without an indictment.

Hunter will make no decision about a re-election bid until after that conference.

The unsolved murder for which he has drawn so much criticism remains one of the most — if not the most — important reasons he wants to stay on the job, he said.

A framed picture of the 6-year-old beauty queen, found murdered in her parents' Boulder home Dec. 26, 1996, sits atop Hunter's desk.

"That's to remind me to stay with it," Hunter said, adding that he has to guard against becoming too single-minded about his job. "I've got to ask myself if that is the appropriate weight to place on that with all the other responsibilities and duties of this office."

The 63-year-old admits he has less fire for his job than he did at 35, but says he still has enormous passion for it.

"There is nothing that I can think of that is more challenging and more personally rewarding than being district attorney of Boulder County. It's a fascinating job ... I can't think of another job that's even close to it," Hunter said.

He views the position as one where he protects people's ability to live however they choose, as long as it's within the law.

"If anybody interferes with that, it's my job to pick them up by the scruff of their neck and get them off the street," he said. "Having been given that job by the people of Boulder County for 28 years has been wonderful."

Recently, it has also been difficult. National and local media alike have criticized his handling of the case.

At the height of international interest in the Ramsey murder , his office fielded between 60 and 80 calls a day. People — tabloid reporters, he assumes — still pick through trash he leaves outside his home, he said.