It’s been just over 16 years since little JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her parents’ Colorado home along with evidence that a male assailant unrelated to the family had been in intimate contact with the girl immediately prior to her death and a note written in what’s been suspected to have been the hand of the girl’s mother demanding a ransom that mirrored an amount of money received by the girl’s father days prior. It seems like this is destined to be one of those cases, like the death of actress Natalie Wood, that we revisit from time to time as new theories emerge and old theories get rehashed. Monday was our latest revisitation of the Ramsey case.
On Monday, we learned that a grand jury had actually voted to indict the Ramsey parents but that the district attorney nevertheless declined to prosecute them. Personally, I don’t think this news really means that much. You’ve probably heard the expression, “A good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich,” and there’s a reason why that expression has stuck around. Additional information could be released that could change my mind, but at this point, it looks to me like the prosecutor probably exercised appropriate prosecutorial discretion.
As a prosecutor, you’re not supposed to try to get someone convicted of anything more than you honestly believe that the evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt. By contrast, if Casey Anthony’s prosecutors hadn’t tried to convict her of first-degree murder when their evidence didn’t establish that beyond a reasonable doubt, I believe they could’ve gotten her convicted of manslaughter, because I believe the evidence did establish that beyond a reasonable doubt.
An even starker example may be the case of George Zimmerman, who’s awaiting trial, also in Florida, for the alleged second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin when I’ve seen absolutely zero evidence that his shooting of Martin was anything other than self-defense. It looks to me like a prosecutor playing to the local crowd, trying to punish Zimmerman as best she can with a drawn-out ordeal precisely because she knows he’s innocent, and if that’s what’s happening, she ought to lose her law license, let alone the case. But I digress.
In the years since the Ramsey story first broke, many have speculated that one of the Ramsey parents was responsible for the girl’s death and that Mrs. Ramsey tried to deflect suspicion by writing the ransom note (to make it look like a kidnapping gone bad). I’ve never subscribed to that theory for three reasons: A) because of the unrelated DNA found on JonBenet’s body, B) because I think people have incorrectly inferred responsibility for the murder from the weirdness of Mrs. Ramsey’s zeal for dressing her daughter up like an adult and entering her in child beauty pageants, and C) the Ramsey parents always came across to me like people with clear consciences rather than people burdened with guilt.
In 2006, John Mark Karr was arrested in Thailand and brought back to the U.S.A. after intimating in an Internet chat that he was present when JonBenet died, but DNA testing quickly proved that he was not the unknown assailant (that’s Nancy Grace and me above discussing Karr back in ’06). Mrs. Ramsey has since died, and no one has ever been charged in the death of JonBenet. You could Google this topic and find volumes of additional information, theories, criticism of law enforcement, etc., and if you’ve followed the case, you’ve heard it all before, so rather than give any more background here, I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you what I think may have happened.
Caution: This is just a theory based on what’s been reported in the press. I have no secret information to confirm or disconfirm it. I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and I could be totally wrong, so think of this in terms of “What if…”:
1) What if the assailant was someone who had been allowed into the house (perhaps a worker of some sort whom the parent(s) let in, or perhaps a stranger whom JonBenet let in — sorry, I can’t even speculate specifically on who the assailant might have been because I don’t know who had access to the house)?
2) What if Mr. Ramsey or both Ramsey parents arrived on the scene of the assault just after it happened, while the assailant was still there, and realized that JonBenet had been killed?
3) What if Mr. Ramsey killed the assailant, not in defense of his daughter, but in a fit of rage?
4) What if, fearing that Mr. Ramsey might face charges for killing the assailant absent the need to defend himself or his family, the Ramseys decided to make it look like the assailant had fled the scene after a botched kidnapping attempt, so Mrs. Ramsey wrote the ransom note?
5) What if the Ramseys disposed of the assailant’s body somehow, somewhere (sorry, I don’t have specific speculation on this part either because I don’t know what options they would’ve had readily available) before calling police?
The foregoing wouldn’t explain who killed JonBenet, but it would explain everything else, like why there was unrelated DNA found on JonBenet’s body (because there was in fact an unknown assailant), why Mrs. Ramsey would have written the ransom note, why neither parent seemed (at least publicly) to be very excited about the John Mark Karr arrest, why successive district attorneys never charged anyone (because maybe they’ve suspected something like this and haven’t wanted to go after the parents for the assailant’s death), and why both parents seem to have been at peace all these years (maybe because they’ve known exactly who killed their daughter and that the killer is long dead).
So, that’s my theory. As far as I know, nobody else had ever thought of it, or at least stated it publicly, before I first did years ago. We may never know what really happened in the Ramsey case, but you can count on Monday’s news not being the last we’ll hear of it!