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Back to 1999 Headlines

7/21/1999

Jurors' '20 questions

by B.J.Plasket
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER A Denver-based legal analyst on Wednesday expressed little surprise at reports that a former FBI profiler hired by the Ramsey family has appeared before the grand jury investigating the death of their 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet.

CBS Radio analyst Andrew Cohen, while saying he has no idea if such reports are true, also said the public should not be surprised if the grand jury completes its work without calling John and Patsy Ramsey to testify.

The grand jury has yet to meet this week and hasn't done so since May 24.

Reports this week in a Denver newspaper said former investigator Lou Smit a public proponent of John and Patsy's innocence and former FBI profiler John Douglas a Ramsey employee who also maintains their innocence appeared before the grand jury this spring.

Those reports say that after the testimony of Smit and later Douglas, the jury gave investigators a list of "20 questions" they wanted answered.

The same reports said the grand jury was poised to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey in their daughter's death before it heard testimony from Smit, who wrote a letter proclaiming the Ramseys ' innocence before quitting his job.

But Cohen said prosecutors have a responsibility even at the grand jury level to present all relevant material, regardless of where it points.

"It's not a statutory or constitutional requirement," he said, "but it is an ethical responsibility. The prosecution has an ethical obligation to present all material information to the grand jury."

Cohen also said it would be unusual for the grand jury's targets in this case John and Patsy Ramsey to be called before the grand jury.

It might also be a waste of time.

If the Ramseys were called before the grand jury, they could invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. If they were to do that, they could only be forced to respond if they were given immunity, which is highly unlikely.

Cohen said calling the Ramseys would be a "huge risk" that neither side may want to face.

He said prosecutors face the possibility that grand jury targets could "win over" jurors with a personal appearance.

Cohen said grand jury targets rarely voluntarily agree to testify, because each statement "further locks in their story," which defense attorneys may not want to do.

He said grand jury appearances are less likely when suspects have already been extensively interviewed, as have the Ramseys .

"Most defense attorneys are going to say. 'You already have statements and that's all you get,' rather than have their clients face more questions," he said.

But there are advantages, depending on the circumstances, to targets testifying.

"The flip side is that, as a possible suspect, you give yourself sort of a preview of what you might be facing," he said. "The main reason to testify is to get background material."

Under Colorado law, Cohen said, lawyers are allowed to accompany their clients into a grand jury proceeding, but their role is very limited.

"A witness can ask for a break to confer with legal counsel at times during the grand jury proceeding," he said, but added lawyers cannot interject anything into the proceedings.

Appearances by Ramsey supporters would also seem natural given District Attorney Alex Hunter's pledge to leave no stone unturned in the probe and to "take every facet of this case to the ground."