Monday, September 26, 2016

The Mysterious Case of Jonbenet Ramsey

The 20-year anniversary of  the death of Jonbenet Ramsey takes place this December.  Milestone anniversaries of newsworthy events tend to invite media outlets to re-visit the event.  This case in particular prompted new coverage because the initial case was never solved.  Conflict arose at the time between the district attorney's office and the local police department. Such conflict is basically never a good thing, and in this case seemed to set up all sorts of road blocks in terms of a resolution ever happening.

It's a gruesome story.  Any murder of a child is horrific. This one was ghastly  -- beginning with the fatal blow to the head, followed by what was alleged by some investigators to be a staged strangulation and fabricated molestation.  The case was made all the more sensational -- as though any added sensationalism was needed -- when photos and videos surfaced of the child victim in her living days as a participant in the child beauty pageant circuit.  The  photography and videography seemed to many to show very young girls in poses and choreographed moves that appeared entirely too sexualized for the ages of the children involved. In the end, the impropriety of the pageant participation as viewed by some turned out very likely to be entirely extraneous, but it did add to the media's frenzy in covering the case.

Public awareness of the case began when a 9-1-1 call was placed by Patsy Ramsey in the early morning hours of December 26.  Mrs Ramsey was understandably distraught when making the call.  She hung up the phone prior to the arrival of law enforcement personnel, which is, according to officials quoted in CBS' review of the case, somewhat unusual. When she hung up, the call wasn't properly disconnected, and the dispatcher could continue to hear, and the automatic 9-1-1 recordings continued to record sounds from the Ramseys' end of the line. The dispatcher, Ms. Archuletta, expressed that the distraught tone she had heard when speaking with Mrs. Ramsey was no longer evident in Mrs. Ramsey's voice. Additionally, voice analysts detected the voice of Burke Ramsey, Jonbenet's nine-year-old brother, on the recording. This is significant primarily because the Ramseys' official account held that Burke was in his bedroom through that time and was not awakened or did not leave his bedroom until hours later.

Investigators worked day and night on the case, only either to be released from their duties by superiors when disagreements occurred or to remove themselves from the case when either they felt justice was not being served or when they felt too burnt out to continue any longer. Accusations were slung back and forth between the local police force and the district attorney's office. The D.A.'s office accused the police investigators of tunnel vision in terms of the focus of their investigation, more specifically of focusing upon the Ramsey family at the expense of examining a large number of other potential suspects.  Police investigators denied this, citing a large number of suspects they had ruled out.

At the crux of the matter was the D.A.'s investigators' "intruder theory" versus the police investigators' "one or more of the three surviving  family members in the house orchestrated the chain of events."  The D.A.'s office cited as evidence contact DNA on Jonbenet's underwear and leggings. The police investigators felt that the DNA evidence was not necessarily substantial -- that the contact DNA n the underwear could easily of gotten there during the manufacturing of the underwear, and could just as easily have been transferred from the underwear to the leggings when the garments were pulled on or off.  The D.A.'s office demonstrated how easily an intruder could  have slid into the home  through a window leading to the basement. The police investigators pointed out spider webs and foliage that, they said, would surely have been displaced by anyone gaining access to the home through the window to the basement. They offered their own demonstration of such. The demonstration was reenacted on CBS' recently televised review of evidence of the case.

Also central to that matter was a rather lengthy and unusual ransom note left near the bottom of one of the home's staircases. The ransom note, self-identifying the abductors of Jonbenet as a "foreign faction,"  went on to state that it,  the "foreign faction," "respect[ed] Mr. Ramsey's business but not the country it served. " The note included lines from movies including  Dirty Harry. The  note, penned on a legal pad from the Ramsey home, took up the better part of three hand-written pages.  It was, as far as any experts connected with the case, a most unusual note written for the purpose of obtaining ransom. Handwriting analysts and linguists were able to exclude John Ramsey, the father of Jonbenet, as the author or the one who literally wrote out the note. Patsy Ramsey was not similarly excluded. Donald Foster, a linguist associated with Vassar University, who had recently determined  from a pool of journalists which of them had written Primary Colors, am anonymously written novel loosely based on the happenings of the 1992 Clinton campaign, compiled an 100+-page review of the evidence present in the ransom note in which he named Patsy ramsey as the author of the note. In a later grand jury proceeding, District Attorney Howard Hunter declined to use any of Foster's findings, basing his decision on  the premise that portions of the review contained references to writings found on a Ramsey home computer.  A warrant had been obtained to grant law enforcement access to content of the computer, but not, Hunter explained, for linguistic analysis.  Even taking Hunter's logic at face value, it would seem that there were alternatives to total exclusion of Foster's findings. A) Foster's document could have been rewritten to omit questionably admissible passages. B) Hunter could have sought a warrant for to use linguistic content found on the computer. C)  Hunter could have gone ahead with use of Foster's material, placing the burden to prove that all or any of it failed to meet standards of admissibility on the defense. Police investigators hinted that Hunter did not want to use Foster's document because he didn't want to make the case against the Ramseys stronger than it already was.

A particular investigator with the District Attorney's office, Lou Smit, allegedly grew close to the Ramseys, supposedly going so far as to pray with them concerning the case. He ultimately became a staunch defender of the Ramseys.

The Ramseys claimed to be in full cooperation with the police, but fought law enforcement attempts to interview them separately early following the case. Neither was Burke, the younger brother, interviewed immediately. Thirteen days following the death of Jonbenet, he was initially interviewed by personnel connected with law enforcement. I'm not a mental health professional, but his affect seemed off considering the occurrence of such a tragedy.  He seemed to me to be flippant in regard to his sister's death. He smiled off and on throughout the interview. He did indicate at one point that he could usually hear from his bed whenever anyone opened the refrigerator door. When asked if he had been at school recently, he answered negatively, alluding to the need to avoid the press. He quoted a friend as having bee accosted by media and asked if Burke Ramsey had been at school. The friend responded that he believed Burke had been absent. Burke's demeanor during this exchange was what I perceived is frivolous. Another interview took place in 1998. He squirmed around in his chair a great deal, as in sitting sideways in the chair with his feet under him. He still did not appear to grasp the gravity of the situation.  One comment he made that was in contrast to what had been said in the earlier interview was that he slept through almost anything and that almost no sounds woke him up or disturbed him. He had stated in the prior interview that the sound of the refrigerator door being opened was something that he could hear from his bedroom. In fairness, he did not say specifically that the sound of the refrigerator woke him up. Still, I found it curious.

The Ramsey family account was that Jonbenet had fallen asleep in the car on the way home from dinner at the home of friends, and that she had been carried upstairs and put to bed. Forensic evidence later indicated that undigested pineapple eaten recently before Jonbenet's death had been found in her upper intestine.  Pineapple was found in a bowl on the Ramseys' kitchen table when law enforcement arrived. 

One of CBS analysts' theories was that Burke was eating pineapple from the bowl when Jonbenet, who had come downstairs from her bedroom, grabbed a piece of pineapple from the bowl. Burke then, according to the proposed theory, likely grabbed a Maglite flashlight, which was found on the kitchen table, and impulsively hit Jonbenet in the head with it. According to CBS' experts, there wasn't necessarily any intent to cause serious injury or to kill Jonbenet. (A year or so previously, in a display of anger, Burke had hit Jonbenet in the face with a golf club.) CBS' analysts  recreated the scene to determine if it was possible for a child to inflict the force that fractured Jonbenet's skull and caused the catastrophic brain injury. Their conclusion was that such was indeed possible.

The garotte and strangulation were, according to the CBS analysts, likely attempts to make the earlier altercation appear to be a sexual assault or kidnapping-gone-wrong.

In 1999, a grand jury voted to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey  on child abuse resulting in death and of being accessories to the crime. District Attorney Howard Hunter chose not to go forward with the charges, citing insufficient evidence. The grand jury records were sealed until 2013. One grand jury member spoke after records were released, indicating that the consensus was that Jonbenet's brother had delivered the blow to her head. As a nine-year-old, under Colorado law, he was immune from prosecution.

In 2008, subsequently elected District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote a letter exonerating all members of the Ramsey family for Jonbenet's death, citing DNA evidence in addition to the strength of the intrude theory.

Burke Ramsey chose to be interviewed by television's Dr. Phil in relation to the case of his younger sister's death. Burke's affect, again, was seen by some viewers as being unusual. His tendency to smile when discussing his sister's fate was disconcerting to many viewers. Dr. Phil defended Burke, explaining that people sometimes smile when under stress. 

Lin Wood, attorney for the Ramsey family, has announced the Ramsey family's intent to sue  CBS over inaccuracies in the documentary. CBS responded with, "CBS stand by the broadcast and will do so in court."

Reach your own conclusions, as did I.

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