JUDGE sides with JonBenet grand jury witness who wants to go public with story

Friday, July 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ A federal judge on Thursday ruled that a witness who appeared before the JonBenet Ramsey grand jury can talk publicly about her testimony.

U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel said a state court rule that prohibits some witnesses from speaking publicly after grand juries disband violates the First Amendment. The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Linda Hoffman-Pugh, a former housekeeper for the Ramsey family who plans to write a book.

The ruling said grand jury witnesses can discuss their testimony in cases where no indictment or report was issued. A Boulder County grand jury investigated the 6-year-old beauty queen's 1996 slaying but disbanded without issuing an indictment or report.

Hoffman-Pugh's attorney, Darnay Hoffman, argued that the rule violated witnesses' free speech rights.

Boulder prosecutor William F. Nagel told Daniel the state rule balances First Amendment rights and the need of grand juries for secrecy. He said the Boulder district attorney's office would likely appeal the decision.

L. Lin Wood, John and Patsy Ramsey's Atlanta-based attorney, said the Ramseys agreed with the ruling because it would make more information public.

The ruling clears the way for Hoffman-Pugh to write a book about her time with the Ramseys and her testimony before the grand jury. She said she has begun discussions with publishers.

JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in her family's Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996. Police say her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, remain under suspicion. The Ramseys, who have moved to Atlanta, have denied any involvement in their daughter's death.