DENVER — A $12 million defamation suit against Fox News, filed last year in Georgia by the family of JonBenet Ramsey, has been moved to federal court in Denver.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash of Atlanta ordered the case moved to Denver earlier this week, and the 18-inch thick case file arrived in Denver on Friday.
The case was transferred, according to Thrash’s order, because it would be more convenient for the involved parties. The Fox News bureau in Denver produced the February 2002 story that sparked the suit by stating that police had found no evidence pointing to an intruder in the Dec. 25, 1996, murder of 6-year-old JonBenet.
The suit was filed on behalf of JonBenet’s parents, John and Pasty Ramsey, and her brother Burke Ramsey after Carol McKinley, a Fox News reporter in Denver, aired a February 2002 story in which she stated that “there has never been any evidence to link an intruder to (JonBenet’s) murder.”
The suit claims there is voluminous evidence pointing to an intruder and claims McKinley knew her report was false and defamatory. In the civil complaint, Atlanta-based Ramsey lawyer Lin Wood claims five of the eight employees at the Fox News Denver bureau worked on the story. No employees are named in the suit, which asks for at least $2 million in compensatory damages and at least $10 million in punitive damages.
Wood’s complaint said the Fox story caused “millions of members of the public” to wrongfully believe members of the Ramsey family were involved in the sexual assault, strangulation and bludgeoning of the 6-year-old beauty queen and that the family has since been subjected to “public hatred, contempt and ridicule.”
The Ramsey family moved from Boulder to the Atlanta area in July 1997 and moved to Michigan, where they have long owned a vacation home, in September 2003. John Ramsey is currently seeking the Republican nomination for a seat in the Michigan Legislature.
Wood, who last year successfully defended the Ramseys in a defamation suit filed by former Boulder County journalist Chris Wolf, recently agreed to represent the family of the woman who has accused Kobe Bryant of raping her.
The Fox suit contains a lengthy list of what it calls evidence pointing to an intruder, including:
• Male DNA — not that of anyone in the Ramsey family — found under JonBenet’s fingernails and on her underwear.
• Two pairs of marks found on JonBenet’s body believed to have been made by a stun gun, which the Ramseys reportedly did not own.
• A broken window and other signs of a break-in near the basement room where JonBenet’s body was found, as well as an unidentified footprint and a palm print found near that room.
• Unidentified male pubic and “ancillary” hair found on JonBenet’s body and clothing and on the blanket she used.
• A garrote and slipknots used to bind JonBenet, described in the suit as “sophisticated torture and bondage devices which no one in the Ramsey family had the knowledge to construct.”
Another federal judge in Atlanta, Julie Carnes, added credence to the intruder theory in March 2003 when she dismissed Wolf’s suit, which he filed after the Ramseys named him as a possible suspect in the case.
In her ruling, Carnes said, “the weight of the evidence is more consistent with a theory that an intruder killed JonBenet than it is with a theory that Mrs. Ramsey did so.”
After Carnes’ ruling, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan, whose office last year took over the investigation, issued a statement saying, “I agree with the court’s conclusion.”
No trial date has been set in the Fox case.
B.J. Plasket can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.