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Questionnaire released, process secret

by Pam Regensberg
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER -- Amid the secrecy that has surrounded the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation since its inception, Boulder County officials on Wednesday privately selected a new grand jury that may help find the 6-year-old's killer.

However, District Attorney Alex Hunter said he has not decided if he will ask the 12-member panel and its five alternates to hear evidence in the 16-month-old homicide case. The DA's office has not received case from the Boulder police.

If the jury is to hear any evidence in the case, it will likely be in June.

While reporters and photographers milled around outside the District Judge Joseph Bellipanni's locked Courtroom G, representatives from the district attorney's office and Bellipanni secretly questioned prospective jurors.

The news that the 12-member jury and its five alternates was impaneled was announced after 5 p.m. after reporters were allowed back in the courtroom. And except for an open morning session, the entire selection process was conducted behind closed and locked doors.

Earlier in the day, however, the courtroom was open and the media was allowed to sit in on the early stages of the selection process. During that time, Deputy DA Peter Hofstrom asked only routine questions about hobbies, interests and occupations. No Ramsey -related questioned were asked.

Some media representatives called it a ``dog and pony show'' held only to placate reporters.

When the court broke for lunch, reporters returned to find the courtroom doors locked and guarded by a sheriff's deputy.

The closure came despite written arguments filed by the media.

``Who are they excusing?'' former prosecutor Craig Silverman asked as he talked with reporters outside the bolted doors. ``We have no idea what the goal was in seating the jury.''

Silverman was partly successful in a two-part motion he filed on behalf of KMGH-TV. It requested the jury selection process be open to the public and asked that the two-page questionnaire distributed to the 57 prospective jurors earlier that morning be made available.

Hunter released the questionnaire without debate, but filed a counter motion asking that the proceedings remain closed, which Bellipanni quickly granted.

It was the first time in Hunter's 25 years as a prosecutor that he used a questionnaire, he said. Silverman also called the procedure unusual.

At least one legal analyst said the four of the 18 Ramsey -related questions show a link that this group will hear the case.

``I get the sense from everything I heard investigation of the death of JonBenet Ramsey or any other current criminal investigation of which you are aware?''

Another stated there may be substantial media coverage related to their work and questioned whether the juror could hold matters in confidence.

Grand juries do not decide guilt or innocence. They decide if enough evidence exists to charge someone with a crime. Grand juries also have subpoena power and hold business in private. The standing grand jury is seated for 18 months.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.