The team of prosecutors who unsuccessfully led a 13-month grand jury inquiry into the 1996 homicide of JonBenet Ramsey vowed today to renew their efforts at finding the killer and said the child beauty queen's parents are still possible suspects.
"We are not going to quit on this case," Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter said this afternoon, 24 hours after he reported with an "aching heart" that the grand jury impaneled last year had concluded its work without filing charges in the case.
But Hunter and other prosecutors, honoring a court order that prevents them from discussing the deliberations of the grand jury, would not discuss whether the panel of eight men and four women had voted against any indictments or had wanted to charge someone and been convinced otherwise by the prosecution team.
"We have eight career prosecutors with many, many years of service who have together concluded we have insufficient evidence to bring charges at this time," Hunter said.
Asked whether JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, remain, in the Boulder police chief's phrase "under an umbrella of suspicion," Hunter said: "They have not been eliminated from the investigation."
Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner insisted today that errors officers made early in the case would not prevent the homicide from being solved.
Hunter said Boulder police and prosecutors would continue working on the investigation. But Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) said today he has appointed a team of legal experts to help him decide whether to name a special prosecutor to investigate the case.
As Hunter and his colleagues defended the long police and grand jury investigations into the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey, whose beaten and strangled body was found in the basement of her parent's home on the day after Christmas in 1996, legal experts and the general public here continued a loud debate over whether the case had been botched, and if so, by whom.
It is a debate that has become a regular indoor sport in Colorado, and one that knows no particular season.
"Thankfully, there are few homicides in Boulder, because Alex Hunter consistently mangles the ones they have," said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor who was particularly critical of the decision not to call John and Patsy Ramsey to appear before the grand jury.
The questions on nearly everyone's mind here the day after the grand jury packed up and went home were ones that will likely not be answered: What did the grand jury want to do, and were they dissuaded from doing it by career prosecutors who believed the evidence wasn't strong enough to win at trial?
"What I want to know is what happened in the grand jury room," said University of Colorado law professor Mimi Wesson. "Was there no probable cause or did the prosecutors talk to them about winnability and dissuade them?"
Without answering that question, members of the prosecution team defended their conclusion that at this point the case could not be brought to trial. "Theories are not what we take into the courtroom," said Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter. "It is fundamental to our system of justice that we rely on evidence and that we maintain our professional standards and our professional ethics even in cases where the entire American public is asking for justice."
Denver defense lawyer Larry Pozner defended Hunter and his team. "The fault lies not with the process, it lies with the facts," he said. "What killed the case was science. There were so many pieces of evidence pointing away from the family it was really, why are we looking at the Ramseys?"