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  Commentary July 31st, 2008

The Editor 

Justice Delayed = Justice Denied?
by Dawna Kaufmann

Dawna Kaufmann is a successful TV producer/writer, with credits on late-night and prime-time variety comedy series. She was a staff writer on many series, including Satuday Night Live and Mad TV, among others, and the co-creator of The Pee-Wee Herman Show, which was a stage musical that evolved into a HBO special and the long-running Saturday morning series.

Since turning to investigative journalism, she has written more than a thousand articles for various publications, from GLOBE to The NATIONAL ENQUIRER and STAR, as well as Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, and others. Her specialty is high-profile homicides and trials, particularly those with premeditation and a sex crime angle.

Her first book, coauthored with famed forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, is A QUESTION OF MURDER, and will be out in October.

Caution: Very graphic discussion follows in this commentary.

Background: Boulder, Colorado, District Attorney Mary Keenan Lacy, who has been "investigating" the Ramsey case for the last few years, recently wrote a letter to JonBenét's father John, apologizing for having believed he or his wife, the late Patsy, or their son Burke (then nine) had anything to do with their daughter's 1996 death. Lacy indicated that recent tests from the Bode Laboratory of Virginia revealed that their relatively new process of "touch DNA" found a match that proves an intruder is indeed culpable of the slaying in which the six-year-old was molested, strangled with a rope and had her skull fractured. There has always been unmatched, unknown male DNA from saliva in the inside crotch of the child's underpants -- a minute amount, too degraded to get a proper DNA profile -- which was mixed with her blood when someone stuck her oh-so-slightly with the pointed end of a broken paintbrush on the night of her death. Because the DNA was so insignificant, it was believed to have come from someone coughing during the packaging process, then the blood drops on top rehydrated it.

Jon Benet Ramsey

Now Lacy says the lab has found that sloughed-off skin cells on the waistband of the long johns JonBenét wore over her underpants can be matched to the underpants' DNA.

This is great news for those people who want to believe in an intruder with no link back to the family members. No one wants to think a parent could harm a child in such a brutal and horrendous fashion. Only problem is, parents kill their children all the time and while this murder is unique in its application and renown, from an investigative POV it's just another murder that has to be dissected to be understood. And anyone looking rationally at the evidence here, and assessing it AS A WHOLE, cannot be pleased with Lacy's letter to Ramsey or the fact that she has cleared the only real suspects in the case. At the least it sets a terrible precedent where other people "under the umbrella of suspicion" in other cases will demand the same treatment if their cases take a long time to reach a courtroom. Just because someone isn't on trial, or a case has gone cold, doesn't mean that the right people aren't firmly under the microscope of authorities.

Mary Lacy is leaving office shortly, so the next DA can retract her pronouncement, although frankly it will take a brave person to go against the sea of public opinion by people who want to believe in a boogeyman. Here, in no particular order, are some facts of the case which are ignored by Lacy's reckless decision ...

Touch DNA is nothing new to law enforcement (though only three years old to Bode, which is handy for getting their name in the news). For about ten years it's been used to capture skin cells from inside masks or gloves, or from guns or knives.

Neither Lacy nor Bode will make available their test results so independent experts can review the information. This is a major problem for them and I can only hope some media outlets file a lawsuit to compel the material.

What they have said is that the mystery man's DNA is on the waistband, but that no DNA from any family member is present. Odd, since Patsy dressed the child in those long johns before putting her to bed, and the waist band is precisely what John's two hands were touching when he carried his daughter's stiff body in a vertical position upstairs from the basement where she was discovered deceased.

JonBenét's autopsy report is the Rosetta Stone to this case. It explains the type and order of the injuries (strangulation, then head blow), which is why authorities focused on the family. It does not suggest who did what, which is why there was enough evidence for an arrest but not a conviction -- without a confession, the grand jury and any prosecutor could not be sure who did what. Add in the three-page ransom note that led back to the family in all probability, and there still wasn't enough for a clear through-line.

What the autopsy report says without equivocation is that the child suffered vaginal injuries that were "chronic," meaning they predated the murder by (according to various experts) days or weeks. We're talking repeated digital penetration that eroded (not ruptured) her hymen. And the opening of her vagina was twice the size of a similar aged child's -- something that would have been testified to by at least three pediatric gynecological physicians, had the case gone to trial. So, this unknown stranger must have had access to her for some time before the night she died. That alone suggests the Ramseys knew more than they were saying.

Famed forensic pathologist (and my associate) Dr. Cyril Wecht, who wrote the book, Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey?, addresses these injuries in chapter 11 of his book, the information which you can find here (where the autopsy report is also linked):

Boulder DA Lacy was responsible for the 2006 debaucle where she had arrested and brought back from Thailand a false confessor named John Mark Karr. When DNA excluded him from being the perp she let him go and publicly stated: "The DNA could be an artifact. It isn't necessarily the killer’s. There’s a probability that it’s the killer’s. But it could be something else."

She added: "No one is really cleared of a homicide until there’s a conviction in court, beyond a reasonable doubt. And I don’t think you will get any prosecutor, unless they were present with the person at the time of the crime, to clear someone."

What has made her change her thinking now?

More to the point, where are the murderer's skin cells from the rope around the child's neck, the paintbrush, the spoon and bowl of pineapple she ate before she died, the underpants, the white blanket that covered her, the flashlight believed to have hit her head, and the pen and paper used in the bogus ransom note? Are we to believe he wore gloves---actually a whole scuba suit since there are no footprints, finger- or handprints, or hairs---except where he touched her waistband?

Above, Patsy (now deceased) and John Ramsey, parents of Jon-Benet

Woven inside the rope around the neck, which was wrapped around a piece of the broken paintbrush, were fibers from the jacket Patsy wore that night -- and inside the underpants were fibers from the wool sweater John had on. The underpants were brand new and hadn't been laundered before, so there could be no secondary transfer, and Patsy's fibers were also in the tote where the paintbrush came from and also on the sticky side of the piece of duct tape that covered JonBenét's mouth -- a piece of tape so small it could have been easily moved aside by her tongue if it had been placed on her mouth while she was alive.
By releasing the DNA evidence used to concoct this latest and most shameful theory, we can see for ourselves who was swabbed for DNA in the years'-long process. Until then we have to believe this skin cell and underpants' DNA could have been innocently deposited from someone in the morgue, lab, or at the crime scene. And how many markers are in the DNA profile? The underpants' DNA was not enough to get a proper match through CODIS, the federal database. Why is Lacy balking at providing this info?

Years ago, there was a civil suit in this case wherein a federal judge issued a statement that said, based on her reading of the material submitted to her, that there was a higher likelihood of an intruder than a family member as the killer. At that time, Mary Lacy read a statement that suggested the Ramseys were innocent, based on the judicial ruling (though not clearing them) -- it was dictated to her by their attorney. What only those close to the case know is that one side of the civil suit completely abandoned its case, never offering paperwork, so the only information the judge had was that which came from the Ramsey camp. Ergo, an easy decision for the judge to make. Since then, the Ramsey attorneys have pummeled Lacy to clear the family entirely and now it's happened. You get what you pay for. Just ask the parents of missing and presumed dead British three-year-old Madeleine McCann who have used the media and spinmeisters, which include members of the Ramseys' own team, and a duped public which has contributed millions of bucks to petition for their names to be cleared.

Mary Lacy was right to offer up an apology. But it should have been to JonBenet and not her family.





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