As the 20th anniversary of JonBenét Ramsey's murder approaches, television networks are racing to reexamine the killing that has long fascinated and horrified the nation, hoping to find new answers in the unsolved case. In the wake of the murder, suspicion fell immediately on the child beauty queen's family, including her father, John Bennett Ramsey. Many still wonder, did John Bennett kill JonBenét Ramsey? However DNA evidence makes it seem unlikely, and John was later cleared as a suspect.
On Dec. 26, 1996, John discovered the 6-year-old beauty queen's body in the family's basement in Boulder, Colorado. JonBenét had been strangled and wrapped in a blanket. Earlier in the day, her mother, Patsy, had found a two and a half page ransom note demanding $118,000 from John, prompting authorities to investigate what they then believed was a kidnapping. John then began a search of the house, at which point he reportedly discovered JonBenét's body in a basement room which had reportedly been nused to hide Christmas presents, acccording to The Denver Post.
However, the legitimacy of the ransom note came into question in the weeks following JonBenét's death, and those who believe that a member of the family committed the crime often point to it as key evidence against her family. Some analysts claimed was unusual due to its length, specificity, and the handwriting's similarities to Patsy's. Patsy too was later cleared of all charges and wiped from the suspect list.
For years, the Ramsey family's pictures were plastered on newspapers and magazines, and the Boulder police department seemed to treat the parents (as well as their 9-year-old son Burke) as primary suspects in the investigation, although none of them were ever charged. And in 2008, new DNA evidence seemingly exonerated them.
DNA traces from an unidentified male found on JonBenét's clothes did not match her father's DNA. When the new evidence came in, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote a letter to John (Patsy had earlier died of cancer), saying:
We do not consider your immediate family including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son, Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime. ... To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry: No innocent person should have to endure such an extensive trial in the court of public opinion, especially when public officials have not had sufficient evidence to initiate a trial in a court of law.
In a statement to Romper, Ramsey family attorney L. Lin Wood dismissed any rumors that the family had been involved in JonBenét's death, writing,
In terms of the accusations against John and Patsy Ramsey, the Boulder District Attorney, Mary Lacy, publicly exonerated them in 2008 based on irrefutable DNA evidence. She apologized to the family and assured them that in the future, they would be correctly treated as victims. The days of Ramsey accusations should have ended then and there.
However, I acknowledge that the conclusion by District Attorney Lacy is difficult for many uninformed viewers to accept as the media with the active assistance of the Boulder Police Department disseminated lies about the family and the evidence for many years in a calculated public relations plan to apply pressure to John and Patsy. That plan was undertaken at the suggestion of the FBI and I confirmed that involvement and the existence of the plan as undisputed fact when I deposed former District Attorney Alex Hunter in past litigation related to the investigation.
I also know that members of the media have profited to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars from the tragedy of this family over the past 20 years and many hope to continue to do so at the present time as they attempt to duplicate the financial success of Netflix in its recent series, Making a Murderer. There is no new information or evidence or justification for the renewed coverage of the Ramsey case other than the media’s desire to make more money on the tragedy. The fact that the brutal murder occurred 20 years ago is merely a thinly veiled excuse to seek ratings and profits by certain networks in September by declaring that the twentieth anniversary merits another mini-media frenzy.
Of course, not everyone believes that the evidence is unequivocal, especially since the crime scene was not properly sealed. Current Boulder County DA Stanley L. Garnett told NBC News, "The Ramsey case is very compromised. ... The exoneration gave the impression that the evidence is clear and unequivocal, which it is not." Multiple TV specials this year about the Ramsey family are hoping to uncover this part of the narrative.
But if the DNA evidence does truly exonerate John, how truly awful to have not only lost a daughter, but to have spent so many years in a cloud of suspicion that you were the one who murdered her. For everyone's sake, let's hope the new CBS special, The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, puts at least part of the tragedy to rest once and for all.