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Back to 2001 Headlines

5/4/2001

Prosecutor investigated for missing Ramsey files

By Travis Henry
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Nearly four years ago, former Boulder County prosecutor Trip DeMuth and sheriff’s Detective Steve Ainsworth were the subject of a state investigation for allegedly stealing information from a “war room” computer regarding the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

This week, DeMuth and Ainsworth appeared on NBC’s “Today” show with investigator Lou

Smit, who is advocating that an intruder beat and strangled 6-year-old JonBenet on Dec. 26, 1996.

Both incidents seem to illustrate the lack of cooperation and vastly different theories of the different law enforcement officials who have worked on or are working on the case.

At the time of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation probe in 1997, DeMuth — who has since left the district attorney’s office — was one of the lead prosecutors in the Ramsey case under District Attorney

Alex Hunter. Ainsworth was “on loan” from the sheriff’s department.

In June of that year, Boulder police became alarmed after someone allegedly gained access to a computer containing investigative material in the case.

The computer was located in a supposedly secured “war room” — a $35,820 project designed to keep information in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation secret.

Publicly, Boulder police never named any suspects. But privately, they believed the theft of the computer documents was an inside job.

Only those intimately involved in the investigation were allowed in the war room, which was protected by an electronic security system that showed no signs of forced entry.

In early June, CBI investigators paid a visit to DeMuth’s and Ainsworth’s houses to seize their computers.

The issue was quickly put to rest when a week after the supposed “break in” investigators concluded the files hadn’t been broken into, but a computer malfunction made it look as though they had.

According to Hunter in a January interview with the Times-Call, the whole CBI investigation was requested by Cmdr. Jon Eller, the Boulder Police Department’s former lead Ramsey investigator, and illustrated the rocky relationship between police and prosecutors.

“It was so ridiculous,” Hunter said. “I looked at him, and I said, ‘John, you have a screw loose.’”

Hunter said that investigators humiliated DeMuth by treating him like a criminal in his own home.

“For the CBI to go to Trip’s home in front of his two little girls and take his computer was the height of the personality-conflict issue,” Hunter said.

DeMuth said Thursday that neither the investigation by the CBI nor the strained relationship between prosecutors and police deterred him from his work on the Ramsey case.

“I always put the case first, and any distractions that came along I put aside,” DeMuth said. “The primary goal was to apprehend and convict the killer of an innocent girl.”

In 1998, DeMuth and fellow prosecutor Peter Hofstrom were removed, Hunter said, after former Gov. Roy Romer “suggested we needed to put new blood” into the investigation.

Hunter admitted his friendship with the two deputies was “strained” when he removed them.

The two also were removed in part because “some objectivity had been lost,” Hunter said.

Four years later, it is retired homicide Detective Lou Smit who is questioning investigators’ objectivity.

Early in the case, Hunter persuaded Smit to come out of retirement to come to Boulder. Smit finally quit the case in 1998 because he felt authorities were wrongly concentrating on the parents.

Boulder police have never officially named a suspect in the case but have stated that John and Patsy Ramsey remain “under an umbrella of suspicion.”

All this week, Smit has been appearing on “Today,” displaying autopsy and other evidence photos and discussing his theories of how JonBenet was murdered.

Smit believes the murder was committed by a male sexual predator who was most likely obsessed with JonBenet.

DeMuth, who now works as a civil litigation attorney for a Boulder law firm, said he appeared on the show to show support for Smit.

“He was and is the most experienced person who has worked on the case,” DeMuth said.

DeMuth said the appearance on “Today” doesn’t conflict with his previous vows not to discuss the facts of the case.

“I am not making any representation of my position on the case at this time, but I am making a representation on what kind of detective Lou Smit is,” DeMuth said. “What people want to imply from that is their business. They are free to interpret it as they wish.”

On the television show, DeMuth’s comments have been broad and not critical of any specific individuals or departments.

“In homicide investigations, you need to make sure you pursue every possibility or theory, if you will, especially since the burden of proof is to prove somebody’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said on Monday’s show, which was taped last month.

His most pointed remarks came when he talked about focusing on one suspect.

“I’ve seen police agencies fix on one suspect and believe they have the right person, and then I’ve watched them let go of that suspect when they develop other evidence and leads,” DeMuth said.

During the “Today” interviews, Ainsworth has been more direct about his theories in the case.

“I have not seen any evidence that would be compelling to suggest that John and Patsy did kill their daughter at this point. And the evidence to me certainly suggests that someone other than them committed the murder,” Ainsworth said.

The detective, who last worked with DeMuth to convict Longmont’s Matthew Mirabal of murdering his wife, said on the television show he isn’t sure why investigators were only focused on John and Patsy Ramsey .

“The reasons why we weren’t allowed to investigate any of the other things that came up — I don’t have the answer for that,” he said.

District Attorney Mary Keenan and Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner said they are not commenting on the case.

Keenan said she will address the local media when there is a reason to.

Travis Henry can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 326, or by e-mail at thenry@times-call.com.