Wednesday, July 9, 2008


It's really big news today. They've discovered NEW EVIDENCE in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey that clears her family from all suspicion! They just got back new DNA test results that show the DNA of an unidentified male, not a Ramsey family member, on a pair of JonBenet's leggings. Those leggings hadn't been tested after her murder in December 1996 because the method of DNA extraction used in this new test did not exist yet.

As a result of this shocking new evidence, the DA of Boulder County has sent an official letter to John Ramsey informing him that no one in his family is any longer under that "umbrella of suspicion." The letter also apologizes to the Ramsey family for contributing to their being under that public umbrella for the last 12 years. Too bad Patsy died years ago, while that umbrella still lingered over her.

Here's the thing, though: back in 1997, the technology did exist to do some DNA testing on JonBenet's body and her underwear. Back in 1997, based on that DNA testing, we already knew that there was DNA of an unidentified male found in the little girl's underwear. Considering that she was sexually assaulted, that's pretty compelling evidence to me. I'd say that's probably reason #1 why no charges were ever filed against the Ramseys. Even the worst trial lawyer ought to be able to convince a jury there's reasonable doubt when there's DNA from an unidentified male inside the girl's underwear!

So the new DNA sample on the leggings matches the DNA sample from inside her underwear. The Boulder authorities are trying to spin this as new evidence. I think that's disingenuous at best. They had this male DNA profile in 1997. They just didn't know who it belonged to. And they really thought something seemed suspicious about this family (maybe because they had a lawyer friend helping them early on?). So they decided that one DNA sample (inside the little girl's underwear) could have just been innocent transfer. Or there could be some other perfectly reasonable explanation for its presence inside JonBenet's underwear. You can bet, though, that if that DNA had been John's or his son's, the police and DA would have heralded that as clear proof of guilt.

DNA evidence is only evidence of guilt if it matches the person the police or prosecutors already think did it. That's certainly the lesson we've learned from all those DNA exoneration cases where the prosecutors fight the defendant's outright release because they insist that the presence of someone else's DNA at the crime scene or (sorry to be crude) inside the victim does not mean the defendant didn't kill the victim. Even if the state relied on that physical evidence in any way, like saying it was the same blood type as the defendant. The fact that we now know the sample didn't come from the defendant is no reason to question the defendant's guilt! But if that DNA sample did match the defendant, well then we would know once and for all that the defendant really was guilty. Because that's how it works: a DNA match proves we were right to suspect the defendant; a DNA mis-match proves nothing.

The Boulder DA is now acknowledging that the same DNA profile on JonBenet's leggings as was found on her underwear really is pretty convincing evidence that this unknown male is responsible for her rape and murder. So now, after more than a decade of books and nasty tabloid headlines and Nancy Grace speculation, all insisting in crazy, hideous ways that John raped his daughter, that Patsy killed her, or even worse, that their young son committed the crimes, well, they have a letter. (John has a letter; I'm sure he'll take a copy to Patsy's grave.) On official letterhead. And it says, "Sorry. Our bad."

It is their bad that for years the Boulder police and DA allowed their pre-conceived notions about JonBenet's case to color their interpretation of the evidence. Instead of following the DNA evidence, they tried to fight it, tried to ignore it, because it didn't fit into their theory of their case. At least they have finally recognized that they can't ignore the obvious anymore: some DNA mis-matches really do exonerate your suspect.

UPDATE: And sure enough, right now on Nancy Grace, Wendy Murphy (another former prosecutor of the same ilk as my dear Nancy) is arguing that this new DNA test still doesn't exonerate the Ramseys! That DNA from her underwear could have gotten there during manufacturing. The DNA on her tights doesn't prove who touched her or when. That's all fine and even has merit to it. Those are definitely arguments I would make as the defense attorney. But don't pretend that you wouldn't claim this same DNA as absolute proof of John Ramsey's guilt if the DNA had matched him.


Anonymous said...

Since they have a DNA profile, can they compare that profile with the DNA of their existing prison population or all other felons? Or is that an illegal search?

S said...

Yes. The database is called CODIS and is often how these cold cases are solved. It is my understanding that they have run the DNA through that database and found no match. If you recall that strange man, John Mark Karr, who claimed to have been there when JonBenet died: his DNA was also tested against that found in her underwear and did not match.

Anonymous said...

What is the criteria for getting your DNA profile into CODIS? A conviction? Or is simply an arrest all that is needed? Does it have to be a felony, or is any old misdonomer drug offender in the database?

Meryl said...

And, while the police were hell--bent on proving the Ramsey's had to have done it--the real perpatrator is apparently still free....

S said...

The criteria for getting into CODIS is somewhat dependent on each state's statute regarding the collection of DNA. I think it's pretty universal that all states now gather DNA upon conviction of most violent felonies. Which convictions exactly get your DNA collected is what will vary from state to state.

There has also been a movement afoot to collect DNA just from every person arrested for certain offenses. That seems highly problematic to me. I am not entirely sure of the status of these statutes because I'm sure diligent defense attorneys challenge those statutes as being far too broad, even if they include a provision that your collected DNA will be destroyed if the charges are ultimately dismissed.

Western Justice said...

I don't give two bits what Mary Lacy says, the Ramsey's did it. If the Ramsey's did not do it, then it was an intruder. If it was an intruder, they would have to come from the outside. If they came from the outside, they would have left tracks in the snow that snowed that night. There were never any footprints. Add to the fact the aweful investigation and errors of the Boulder police, the Boulder DA can say what she wants. She is trying to shore up her legacy for a failed cold investigation.

S said...

But if the Boulder police bungled the investigation from the beginning, why trust the notion that there were no footprints?

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