A Boulder grand jury indictment in 1999 accused John and Patsy Ramsey of two counts each of child abuse resulting in death in connection to the first-degree murder of their 6-year-old daughter JonBenét, according to documents released Friday morning.
The charges didn't directly accuse the Ramseys of killing their daughter. Instead they alleged that the parents permitted JonBenét to be placed in a dangerous situation that led to her death and it accused them of helping whoever killed the girl.
The Ramseys were never officially indicted, however, because former District Attorney Alex Hunter refused to sign the documents and prosecute the Ramseys.
The documents were compiled long before new DNA evidence that led the Boulder district attorney to publicly exonerate the parents and apologize to them in 2008.
"The DNA was not available to the grand jury in 1999," said Lin Wood, the Ramseys' attorney. "What we have here is a release of a sliver of the evidence that the grand jury looked at and reviewed. It's just based on incomplete evidence. "
JonBenét's body was found in the basement of her parents' Boulder home on the day after Christmas in 1996. She had been strangled, and her skull had been fractured.
Her parents were placed under what one investigator called "an umbrella of suspicion," but they denied any involvement in their daughter's death. Patsy Ramsey died in June 2006 after battling ovarian cancer for more than a decade.
Friday's release involved four pages of the grand jury's indictment and centered on just two counts, which were identical for both of the Ramseys.
Count four of the indictment said the Ramseys "did unlawfully, knowingly, recklessly and feloniously permit a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child's life or health, which resulted in the death of JonBenét Ramsey, a child under the age of sixteen."
Count seven of the indictment said the Ramseys did "unlawfully, knowingly and feloniously render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of murder in the first degree and child abuse resulting in death."
Neither Hunter nor John Ramsey returned calls seeking comment on Friday.
Judge Robert Lowenbach ruled Wednesday morning that the court would release the indictment Friday in response to a lawsuit brought by Boulder Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The Camera reported earlier this year that the Boulder County grand jury investigating the Ramsey case voted in October 1999 to indict the Ramseys on charges of child abuse resulting in death, but Hunter refused to sign the document and prosecute the Ramseys.
The three-year statute of limitations on the charges in the reported indictment would have expired in 2002.
"While grand jury witnesses and their testimony remain shielded for good reason, the ultimate decisions of juries and prosecutors must be public if the people are to retain any faith or trust in the rule of law," Brennan said in a first-person story Friday explaining why he fought for the documents' release.
Denver defense attorney and legal analyst Dan Recht said the documents show the conflict within the grand jury.
"In a sense, they seem to be classic compromise grand jury decision," Recht said. "They can't decide whether to indict on murder. They can't decide not to indict at all. So they compromise in between."
Curiously, the charges in each parent's unsigned indictment are listed as Count IV(a) and Count VII. Recht said that shows the district attorney presented multiple possible charges to the grand jury — likely including murder — and that these two were the only ones the grand jury could agree upon. And that, Recht said, shows why Hunter was reluctant to go forward with any of the charges.
"In part, this vindicates Alex Hunter," Recht said. "He probably saw this as a classic compromise, and he believed, if he couldn't prove murder, he couldn't prove either of these beyond a reasonable doubt."
John Ramsey had urged the court to release all of the grand jury's report, rather than just the portion posted by the court on Friday. He argued that the partial release offered a skewed view of the proceedings.
"The court is sympathetic to the position of Mr. Ramsey," Lowenbach said, but a release of the entire record "would set a precedent that would impede other Grand Juries in performing their functions under statute and rule."
Hal Haddon, one of John Ramsey's attorneys, said in a letter to the Boulder district attorney that Friday's document release "only serves to further defame him and his late wife Patricia Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey will have no access to whatever evidence the prosecutors presented to the grand jury and will have no ability to disprove these allegations in a court of law. Nor will the public ... have any ability to evaluate the propriety of the indictment unless the entire grand jury record is unsealed and opened to public view."
In 2008, Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy took the extraordinary step of publicly exonerating the child's parents and immediate family in her death and apologizing to them. She cited new DNA evidence that pointed to an unknown male as JonBenet's killer.
In a letter hand-delivered to John Ramsey, Lacy said she was confident the DNA belongs to the killer.
"Significant new evidence . . . convinces us that it is appropriate, given the circumstances of this case, to state that 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," Lacy wrote.
Wood said he is concerned that the indictment's release will appear to some to be confirmation that the Ramseys killed their daughter, when they have been cleared.
"It's subject to the impression that criminal charges were warranted against the Ramseys. A full examination of the evidence unquestionably exonerates the Ramseys," Wood said. "This is inflicting a terrible miscarriage of justice."
Kirk Mitchell: 303-954-1206, denverpost.com/coldcases or twitter.com/kmitchelldp