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Why opening JonBenet Ramsey case files could help solve her murder

Friday morning, a Colorado judge released the secret indictment of the parents in the JonBenet Ramsey case.

The indictment—along with the entire grand jury record have been sealed since 1999. Although the pages from the actual indictment are being released, tens of thousands of other pages that make up the entire JonBenet case file are still being kept confidential.

Based on my personal experience working on the Ramsey investigation, I believe that revealing some of those files could help solve the case.

Although JonBenet’s investigation is technically considered ongoing, it has become relatively dormant, and that isn’t helping JonBenet.

I first became involved with the Ramsey case nearly 17 years ago when I was sent to snowy Boulder as a cub reporter. I spent more than three years chasing leads through the Rocky Mountains, trying to solve the mystery of JonBenet’s murder with my fellow reporters.

One of the more notable stories about this unsolved mystery was broken by Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan. Brennan discovered that a 1998 grand jury actually voted to indict the parents for murder charges.

Soon thereafter, Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press petitioned the courts for the release of the actual indictment. 

Since Brennan was often times considered the lead reporter on the case, and perhaps the most consistent in his reporting, the fact he broke this story did not surprise me. What did surprise me was that the grand jury voted to indict.

When former District Attorney Alex Hunter announced at the close of the 1999 grand jury that no charges would be filed against the parents everyone assumed the grand jury did not return a “true bill.”

Hunter never said one way or another how the grand jury voted, but only that charges would not be filed at that time. He did not feel there was sufficient evidence to move forward and as he repeatedly told me, “You know, there’s no statute of limitations on murder and we only get one shot at this.” Hunter was always worried that if prosecutors moved too quickly they could lose the case.

Some detectives, like Steve Thomas who resigned in protest over the pace of the case disagreed, and the matter was intensely debated between police and prosecutors for a long time.

Since Colorado law technically prohibits the release of evidence during an ongoing criminal investigation, D.A. Stan Garnett and Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner are acting appropriately by complying with Colorado statutes and keeping the case file confidential.

Although JonBenet’s investigation is technically considered ongoing, it has become relatively dormant, and that isn’t helping JonBenet. 

If journalists continue to compel the courts to consider the public interest, there is a possibility a judge could order the release of more material because of the First Amendment.

The release of case files could be in JonBenet’s interest since, at this cold case stage, it may inspire a reluctant witness to come forward the way the Unabomber’s brother came forward after the FBI released his manifesto. It could also inspire other members of the public to want to help authorities solve the case.

After nearly 17 years, it was time to consider releasing some information in the JonBenet Ramsey case. There is nothing more important in this matter than the truth coming to light so that JonBenet can finally have justice.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist currently reporting on the Russian Federation.