A grand jury investigating the JonBenet Ramsey slaying met for nearly seven hours today before recessing as speculation mounted that a decision soon would be made.

"The grand jury will return for more work tomorrow," said Suzanne Laurion, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Alex Hunter. She declined further comment.

Hunter avoided reporters as he arrived so he could focus on the case, said Laurion. Hunter fueled speculation last week by telling reporters to stay by their telephones over the weekend, implying the jury's work was nearing an end.

The panel has heard from friends, family members and police officers. It can issue an indictment or report or disband without comment. Its term expires Oct. 20.

When the grand jurors finished for the day, they were escorted to their cars by armed sheriff's deputies.

Hunter has said he could continue the investigation without the grand jury's help. Under a state law, a prosecutor can file charges directly if he believes there is enough evidence.

JonBenet Ramsey's body was found beaten and strangled in the basement of her parents' home Dec. 26, 1996. Police have said her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, remain under an "umbrella of suspicion." The Ramseys have steadfastly maintained their innocence.

The grand jury has been meeting since September 1998, but took about four months off before resuming work last month.

CAPTION: Members of the JonBenet Ramsey grand jury are escorted to the Boulder, Colo., courthouse by a deputy. The jury appears ready to conclude its work.