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JonBenet warrants to

by Pam Regensberg
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER -- Denver media attorney Tom Kelley said he was startled by Monday's court order sealing search warrants in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case for another 90 days.

Sealing the usually public documents is unprecedented in Boulder County, Kelley said.

Boulder County Judge Diane MacDonald said in her ruling that disclosing information contained in the warrants could damage the police investigation.

The decision to seal the documents for 90 days -- or until someone is arrested -- is in line with much of the way the now nine-week old investigation has taken place.

For Kelley and the two local newspapers he represents, there is not much left to be done except a possible appeal of the decision to the district court.

``No judge has ever found that there was a substantial probability that release of information would interfere with an investigation,'' Kelley said.

``I have to wonder what is in the search warrants to justify such a finding,'' Kelley said, adding that the possible damage to the investigation is based on speculation.

Authorities believed the publication of stolen coroner's photographs would hinder the investigation. After the photos of JonBenet appeared in The Globe, however, authorities said they believed their investigation was not compromised.

During a Jan. 7 hearing to open the search warrants, MacDonald granted the district attorney's office request to seal the documents for 30 days.

On Feb. 4, she extended the seal for an additional 15 days, despite arguments from the media. This time, the public may have to wait until late spring to find out what the police took from the Ramseys ' home.

Boulder police Detective Jim Byfield's affidavit in support of sealing the documents was also kept secret. In addition, MacDonald said she would not consider releasing an edited version of the warrants, as was done with the coroner's autopsy report.

``This is not a viable alternative because disclosure of any part of the materials would reveal the focus, direction, and scope of the investigation and would compromise the ongoing investigation,'' MacDonald said.

Boulder police searched the Ramseys ' lavish Boulder home near Chautauqua Park for nearly two weeks after the little girl was found Dec. 26. Officers carried off boxes and bags of evidence. No one except those closely connected to the inquiry knows what the police seized from the house and the Ramseys ' 1995 Jaguar and 1996 Jeep Cherokee.

John Ramsey found his daughter in a remote basement room about eight hours after his wife, Patsy Ramsey , found a ransom demanding $118,000 for JonBenet's safe return. The kindergartner had been strangled, sexually assaulted and suffered a severe blow to her head.

The Ramseys and their 10-year-old son, Burke, remain in seclusion and have not been formally interviewed by police.

Meanwhile, two news reports indicate authorities are re-checking the alibi of JonBenet's half-brother, John Andrew.

Ramsey family spokesman Patrick Korten and police denied the report, which came from an unidentified source.

In the district attorney's office, work is continuing on hiring a homicide investigator to help the prosecution team if the case gets to that stage.

District Attorney Alex Hunter, in a reversal of public statements made earlier by Assistant DA Bill Wise, claimed the hiring of an outside investigator is no indication that there is a rift between the DA's office and the Boulder police.

``It has been reported ... that this is all because of a relationship at the BPD that is rough edged, in fact, that is not the case,'' Hunter said. ``The way we are set up in the Boulder District Attorney's Office, we have investigators who are working with the deputies, coordinating files, doing this, that and the other thing. We really do not have a homicide investigator and we feel that this case warrants that.''

Earlier this month, Wise asked the county commissioner for more money to help pay for, among other things, an outside investigator to help in the investigation. Wise, who told the commissioners he would like to criticize the police but couldn't, indicated there had been problems with the investigation and the DA's office wanted an experienced or possibly retired officer or FBI agent.

For now, the DA's office, with help from the Boulder police, will compile a list of potential candidates for the job.

Meanwhile, the two men who sold stolen crime-scene photographs are out of jail now after serving three days in solitary confinement.

Brett A. Sawyer and Lawrence S. Smith pleaded guilty to obstructing government operations for selling the photos to The Globe for $5,200.

They were released Sunday.