Leads such as palm print, suicide victim evaluated in Ramsey case

Saturday, September 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOULDER, Colo. – Even while Boulder police evaluate the results from their recent interrogation of JonBenet Ramsey's parents, investigators are probing other tips in the case.

Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner spoke this week about two leads that have been raised recently in the unsolved 1996 slaying of the 6-year-old beauty queen.

He said a palm print from the Ramsey crime scene does not match one found at a nearby home where an intruder assaulted a 14-year-old girl nine months after JonBenet's murder. The two assaults shared a number of parallels, including that JonBenet and the second girl attended the same dance studio.

The palm print in the second case was from the girl's father, who was out of the country when she was assaulted, Chief Beckner said. Police did not disclose where that print was found, but police reports say that one was recovered from the girl's bed frame.

JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in her family's basement on Dec. 26, 1996, about seven hours after her mother reported finding a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her safe return.

Her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, have been labeled by police as suspects, but they deny any involvement. They insist she was murdered by an intruder who entered their home Christmas night while they were at a party, then waited to assault JonBenet after they went to bed.

The Ramseys and several investigators saw possible connections between JonBenet's death and the second crime, which occurred Sept. 14, 1997, two miles from the Ramseys' home. In that incident, an intruder appeared to have slipped into the empty residence early in the evening and hid for several hours before molesting the girl in her bedroom. The assault was interrupted by the girl's mother, who chased the intruder from the home with mace.

"I don't think that this changes anything,'' Chief Beckner said about the palm print, "because we never said we thought these two cases were related. This is just another piece of information that doesn't link them together."

Chief Beckner said police have examined many suspects in the Ramsey case but that the public typically hears only of suspects whom others make public.

The latest example, he said, is that of a 26-year-old Boulder County man who killed himself about six weeks after JonBenet's murder.

The timing of his suicide was considered suspicious by the Ramseys' private investigators because it happened Feb. 14, 1997, just one day after Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter warned the unknown killer at a news conference that the pool of Ramsey suspects was dwindling. "You will pay," Mr. Hunter said then.

Ramsey private investigator Ollie Gray of Colorado Springs said the suicide victim owned a pair of Hi-Tec boots and at least one stun gun. That's significant, the Ramseys say, because police found a Hi-Tec boot print near where JonBenet's body was found, and some investigators think that two sets of marks on her body could have been caused by a stun gun.

Chief Beckner said the dead man's boots are being re-examined against the print from the Ramseys' basement, but he declined to call the dead man a suspect. He said the man's DNA does not match DNA recovered from JonBenet's underwear.

However, Chief Beckner added, "I don't like using that word, 'cleared' or 'excluded.' Until you solve a case, we can't really say people are excluded. What I can tell you is, we have not been able to tie him to the case in any way, and he hasn't become a suspect, because of that."

Police are continuing to sift through the results from two days of contentious interviews of the Ramseys last month by Chief Beckner, three detectives and three prosecutors.

Chief Beckner has said police did not succeed in getting answers to all their questions, and because the Ramseys' lawyer vowed the couple will not sit voluntarily for more questioning, a second grand jury could be impaneled to question them under subpoena.

Mr. Hunter, who will retire as district attorney in January, said this week that another grand jury "is an option, but remote."

A Boulder County grand jury considered the Ramsey case for 13 months but disbanded in October 1999 without returning any indictments.

Charlie Brennan is a free-lance writer based in Boulder, Colo.