BOULDER — DNA found in the underwear that JonBenet Ramsey was wearing when she was found murdered in her home has been submitted by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office to the FBI’s national DNA databank.
The latest development has left several people involved in the 7-year-old murder investigation optimistic that the 6-year-old girl’s murderer will be identified.
The submission to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System is a significant step forward in the investigation, says Ramsey attorney Lin Wood, who confirmed that the sample had passed standards required for submission within the last several months.
Wood says this recent development — coupled with news that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Denver Police Department are lending a helping hand in the
investigation — improves the likelihood that JonBenet’s murder will be solved.
“There was probably no chance that the case could be solved while it was being handled by the Boulder Police Department,”
Wood said, adding that the department did not try to submit the male DNA sample while it held the reins of the investigation. “The fact that (Boulder County District Attorney) Mary Keenan took over the case with an aim toward conducting a fair and objective investigation alone increases the chances of success.”
That optimism isn’t universal.
“My honest answer on this is I do not know if it’s solvable,” says Tom Bennett, the lead investigator on the Ramsey case for the DA’s office. “I’m only one guy. I’ve been here six months. I have a lot of stuff I have to look through.”
That “stuff” includes stacks of tens of thousands of documents that date back as far as Dec. 26, 1996, when the girl’s beaten and strangled body was found in the basement of her Boulder home.
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Little JonBenet’s murder once permeated lives.
Pictures of a young, blond debutante haunted families waiting in the checkout aisle of their local grocery store as they glanced at the weekly tabloids. Evening news reports reviewed the latest leads in the investigation with no avail.
Seven years later, media attention has wavered. The public — largely callused by a barrage of what it deemed exploitation — is granted occasional peeks at Star magazine covers featuring the tragic, prepubescent celebrity.
But JonBenet has become a full-time investment for Bennett, who said he works at least 40 hours a week, knocking on doors and interviewing folks who might hold the key that unlocks the answer to the girl’s murder. In addition, retired Colorado Springs homicide investigator Lou Smit works the case part time.
And while Keenan says the investigation is on the right track, she and her office have tendered a “no comment” policy, avoiding the leaks that some believe sullied the early stages of the investigation.
“Our investigator, with 28 years of homicide experience, is working on it full time,” Keenan said. “In terms of our expectations, we are making progress.”
Ollie Gray, a private investigator hired by the Ramseys in 1999, said his side of the investigation is ongoing, and that the district attorney’s office has not been in touch with him since a special meeting in July.
“We did provide them with some things that we thought should be of interest,” Gray said. “I’m hoping that they have looked at those things and either disproved or are still looking (at them).”
Keenan said Gray and other investigators have been fully cooperative with her office. And while details of the status of the information Gray provided are unavailable, she said the public can rest assured it is now in competent hands.
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It’s a 15-foot walk from Keenan’s office to the quarters where Bennett works in the Boulder County Justice Center.
But the daily grind of running the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office doesn’t afford Keenan the opportunity to become fully immersed in the time-consuming Ramsey investigation, she said.
In June, after one investigator aiding in the Ramsey investigation left the case, the office decided that the special demands of the murder investigation necessitated the hiring of a full- time investigator. Bennett applied for the position, which pays $25 an hour, and was initially hired as a contract employee.
Keenan said her office has been frugal in funding the investigation and has managed to stay within its allocated budget. She could not offer specific numbers as to the amount of money that has been filtered into the investigation.
“We’re making due with what we have,” Keenan said. “We have not asked for any extra money outside of our regular budget, so it’s pretty much on a shoe string. I can't give you a dollar amount because we don’t spend money on it; we spend time.”
Not a moment of that time is wasted, she said.
“He’s very competent, very detailed, very experienced, and I've been impressed by his work here at our office,” Keenan said.
Bennett’s career in law enforcement afforded him many other opportunities to work high-profile murder and sexual assault cases, including that of Richard Collins, who received three life sentences after he raped a woman, then hired teenagers and his prison cellmate to murder her and her attorney.
Bennett was the 1997 recipient of Arvada’s Medal of Valor for his involvement in a hotel shootout with a man wanted in the murder of his girlfriend. And in 2001, he received the Colorado Association of Robbery Investigators’ Lifetime Achievement Award.
Most recently, he has been called upon to assist in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault investigation.
Bennett says the Ramsey endeavor has distinguished itself from the others.
This is the most difficult thing I’ve worked on in my life,” he said. “Nothing compares to it. Nothing. Nothing comes close to it. This is mind-boggling.”
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Tricia Griffith admits that interest in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation has wavered.
But to say that it has deteriorated altogether is a gross exaggeration, she says.
Type in “JonBenet Ramsey” on the search engine www.google.com and you will receive at least 27,600 hits — or Web pages — about the young girl. That doesn't take into account alternate spellings, like “Jon Benet Ramsey,” for which there are more than 7,500 matches.
“You would be surprised how many people are interested,” says Griffith, owner of www
.forumsforjustice.org, a Web site intent on discussing “true crime cases.’ The primary focus of Griffith’s site, like thousands of others, is the JonBenet Ramsey investigation.
Owners of some sites profess they know who is behind the December murder. Others post graphic pictures in an attempt to demonstrate how JonBenet was killed. Griffith says her site is distinguished by the fact that its many members — ranging from business professionals to housewives — conduct research and have gathered limited facts about the case to promote civilian justice.
“I think we’re very dedicated,” Griffith said. “You’ll find that we have a lot of intelligent posters and we're proactive. We try to poke a stick in the tiger's cage to get it up and moving again.”
That was precisely Griffith’s motive when she requested from the Boulder District Attorney's Office a copy of the 911 call placed by Patsy Ramsey on the morning of Dec. 26, 1996. Her request was prompted by statements made by Wood, who appeared on numerous TV programs this summer to deny reports that Patsy, John and Burke Ramsey could be heard at the end of the tape.
Wood was responding to reports that in an enhanced 911 tape, Burke could be heard asking his parents questions while Patsy repeatedly said “Help me, Jesus.”
Griffith believes what she heard refutes Patsy Ramsey’s statement to Boulder police that Burke was sleeping when she called police to report that JonBenet was missing.
Wood, who on Tuesday filed a defamation suit against Fox News, says Griffith’s statements are “absolutely and unequivocally false.” The tape is a genuine representation of Patsy Ramsey’s distress and further proves that none of the Ramseys was involved in JonBenet's murder, Wood said.
“I challenge anyone who says to the contrary to publicly release their ‘recording’ and the full report of any so-called ‘expert’ who claims to hear Burke and John on the tape,” Wood said. “I will be more than happy to take the sworn testimony of any such individual as part of the Ramsey v. Fox News litigation and prove that person upon cross-examination to be a fraud.”
Griffith’s proactive behavior began earlier this year, when she retained ownership of the 2-year-old site. In December 2002, the Boulder Police Department handed the reins of the Ramsey investigation to the District Attorney’s Office. Griffith was immediately dumbfounded by the office’s actions, she said.
In April, Keenan took a controversial stance when she openly defended a federal judge’s ruling supporting the theory that an intruder — not Patsy Ramsey — was responsible for JonBenet’s murder.
“That was appalling,” said Griffith, who believes the intruder theory is false. “There was no need for her to comment on that case.”
Keenan, who issued a statement calling the ruling a “thoughtful and well-reasoned decision,” would not comment on what specifically provoked her to issue public support for the ruling.
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At the seven-year anniversary of JonBenet’s murder , there are no concrete answers as to when or if the young girl’s killer will ever be found.
Wood is confident — particularly in light of recent developments — that identifying the killer is feasible.
“I believe DNA will ultimately be the evidence that brings the murder of JonBenet to justice,” Wood said.
The status of the investigation — vague as it is — is as important as any other investigation being handled by the district attorney's office, Keenan said.
“I just think it’s an extremely serious case and we’re taking it seriously,” she said. “But not because of the presence that the media gave to it; because it involves the very violent death of a young child. And that does have a lot of meaning to me, as all of them do.”
As the Tricia Griffiths of the world make their pleas, Keenan says Bennett and the other investigators continue to work diligently.
Until then, optimism prevails within most of the investigative community.
“I still feel this case could be solved,” Gray said. “As far as if anything can be solved soon, that’s really an unfair question, based on our limited involvement with the internal workings with the district attorney's office.”
“I think it is solvable,” Keenan said. “At some point I think it will be solved.”
Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 319, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.