Five years after child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey's death, case remains a mystery

Wednesday, December 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) _ Five years have passed since 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found strangled in the basement of her family's home, and police have yet to charge anyone in the death of the child beauty queen.

It was early Dec. 26, 1996, when JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, called 911 and reported finding a ransom note on the back stairs of their upscale Boulder home. Hours later, John Ramsey found his daughter's body in the basement.

The chilling note demanded $118,000 in exchange for JonBenet's life.

``Listen carefully!'' it began. ``We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We respect your business but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our possession.''

The five years that followed JonBenet's death have seen spinoff criminal cases and lawsuits, infighting among police and prosecutors and a grand jury investigation. But no indictments have followed, and authorities seem as far as ever from establishing who killed JonBenet.

Police say JonBenet's parents remain under suspicion. The Ramseys repeatedly have professed their innocence and maintain that an intruder killed JonBenet.

No break is likely without new forensic technology or new evidence, legal analyst Scott Robinson said.

``Short of something relatively astounding, JonBenet's death will never become the subject of a criminal trial,'' he said.

The Ramseys' attorney, Lin Wood, said charges probably will never be filed unless experienced new investigators take over.

The Ramseys declined to be interviewed, but told the Rocky Mountain News earlier this month they believe authorities have failed them and their daughter.

``Our strength comes from our innocence,'' John Ramsey said. ``We cannot sit idly by for JonBenet's sake, for the sake of the next child this person will attack, if he's still alive. This is not right. Our government has failed, and our intention is to hold them accountable.''

The Ramseys have since moved to Atlanta, but the curious still seek out their former home. Its new owner recently got the address changed and young evergreen trees on the front lawn help block the view.

JonBenet's grave near Atlanta also attracts visitors, many of whom leave small angels or stuffed animals.

Tensions among police officers, the Ramseys and the prosecutor flared almost immediately after JonBenet's body was found. They disagreed on conditions for interviews, and neither parent was formally interviewed by police until four months later.

Former District Attorney Alex Hunter was accused of hindering the police investigation, which he denied.

Hunter, former Police Chief Tom Koby and several of the detectives have since resigned or retired.

Today, four police investigators and one commander are still assigned to the case, but no one has worked it full-time for at least a year, said Police Chief Mark Beckner, who inherited the case in 1998 after Koby resigned.

``You can't turn the clock back,'' Beckner said. ``We all wish it never happened, but we have to go forward and move on. You do the best you can.''

Police have interviewed at least 650 people, many more than once, and consulted with more than 60 experts and consultants. About 140 people have been investigated, about 1,400 pieces of evidence have been collected, and investigators have traveled to 18 states.

The cost of the investigation stands at about $1.7 million.

Beckner wouldn't speculate on whether the case would likely be solved, but said 35 percent to 40 percent of homicide cases go unsolved.

This month, the Ramseys gave sworn depositions in a lawsuit by a Boulder journalist who claims they defamed him by naming him in their book as a suspect. It is one of two such lawsuits.

Wood said nothing new was revealed.

The attorney plans to file an open-records demand this month for all police records to help defend the Ramseys against the libel lawsuits and clear their name.

This year will be a difficult one for the family, Wood said.

``The five-year anniversary carries with it ... the lack of progress in finding the killer of their daughter and the stalemate in their minds of the status of the investigation,'' he said. ``They survive Christmas the same way they survive every other day of the year and that is through their faith.''