BOULDER, Colo. – We have learned, over the years, to suspect the closest — the mother, the father, the boyfriend, even the children. Susan Smith, Andrea Yates, Scott Peterson and so many others taught us that.
And so it was with the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty queen. Suspicion fell on her parents, John and the late Patsy, despite a decade of insisting they were innocent.
Checkout-aisle tabloids relentlessly went after the couple. News reports cast suspicion on JonBenet's older brother, Burke. Even authorities investigating the murder said the parents were under an "umbrella of suspicion."
• Timeline: The JonBenet Ramsey Murder Investigation
Then came the arrest in Thailand of John Mark Karr, who told U.S. investigators that he drugged and had sex with JonBenet before accidentally killing her, according to a Thai police account of his questioning. (Full story)
In a statement, John Ramsey said his wife, who died in June of ovarian cancer, "would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development almost 10 years after our daughter's murder."
For his part, he told ABC, "I've never felt convicted other than by the media."
Prosecutors in Boulder, Colo., where JonBenet was found beaten and strangled on Dec. 26, 1996, did not clear the Ramseys after Karr's arrest. The district attorney cautioned the public not to "jump to conclusions."
Still, the arrest ends nearly 10 years in which John and Patsy Ramsey were the only people under public suspicion in the case. It might as well have been a real umbrella, looming over them everywhere they went.
The murder dominated coverage of John Ramsey's unsuccessful run for a seat in the Michigan state House in 2004. He began greeting voters at his office with a handshake, a free hot dog and a copy of "The Death of Innocence," the couple's book about the case.
In the book, the Ramseys, who always claimed an intruder killed their daughter, sketched out the possible assailant as a male pedophile, between the ages of 25 and 35. Karr was 32 when the slaying occurred.
Eventually, staked out by a phalanx of cameras every time they were questioned by police, even outside their own home, Patsy Ramsey dared prosecutors to charge her in the case. They never did.
Family attorney Lin Wood said Karr tried to correspond with Patsy Ramsey in the months before she died. She did not reply but handed the information over to authorities, Wood said.
The lawyer made reference after the arrest to the Ramseys' difficult life in the public spotlight, pointing out they had tried to raise a son, Burke, "despite the furor around them."
The case is hardly the first crime in which public suspicion has been turned on its head.
Among the most famous is the case of Sam Sheppard, who was convicted in 1954 of bludgeoning his wife to death. Weeks later, he was subjected to the indignity of having to wear handcuffs to the funerals of his parents, who died within days of each other shortly after the conviction.
Sheppard served almost 10 years in prison before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that the massive publicity surrounding the case had prevented him from getting a fair trial. He walked free after a retrial.
Jens Sund said he was only slightly concerned when his wife and daughter disappeared during a visit to Yosemite National Park in 1999. He continued to Phoenix and played golf before reporting them missing.
A cloud of public suspicion hung over Sund until another man, Cary Strayner, confessed to killing the wife and daughter and was sentenced to death.
Still, there is something undoubtedly different about the Ramsey case. Sheppard's trial was indeed a circus for its day, but the Ramseys' every move, every utterance, has been dissected by tabloids and sensationalized cable-TV gabfests.
Patsy Ramsey's sister Pamela Paugh told CBS on Thursday the public suspicion had taken a vicious toll on the couple. She said her sister may have had a hint before she died that an arrest was in the offing.
"I'm sure where she is right now, she knows," Paugh said.