The media, not charged, but guilty in Ramsey case …
Patsy Ramsey is looking down from the heavens she always prayed to with her trademark beauty pageant smile. Standing next to her is her beautiful daughter, Jon Benet Ramsey. They are benevolent but still wagging a finger of “I-told-you-so” at all of us.
The letter of exoneration was stunning in what it revealed – a new form of forensic testing found two distinct spots of male DNA on the clothing Jon Benet was wearing when she was killed. And that DNA matches the sample taken from her underwear back in 1997.
In other words, the killer left three separate spots of evidence to help track him down. None of the DNA matches any member of the Ramsey family.
The current District Attorney of Boulder, Colorado, Mary Lacy, says she wishes she could have delivered the news before Patsy died in 2006. DA Lacy’s declaration that her office will now “treat you as the victims of this crime, with the sympathy due you ….” may have come as a relief to patriarch John Ramsey but I doubt it.
“We became entertainment for the country,” John Ramsey once said long after he’d lost both his daughter and his wife. His implication was that the media made sure everyone thought they were guilty of murdering their child.
I agree. I was part of the media pact that descended on Boulder right after Christmas 1996. For months I and my colleagues tramped around town trying to find the truth. Tabloid headlines screamed, “Did Daddy Do It?” and “Cops: Mom Confesses!”
There was a frenzy of media to get something – anything – and for months the story was top of the news. My boss at the now defunct TV program HARD COPY sent me on an open ended ticket to Boulder and when I couldn’t develop any new angle she ordered me to follow Jon Benet’s brother Burke to and from his elementary school. I refused to shadow a little kid, especially one who just lost his little sister, and I left the program about a month later.
The media was brutal. Extensive handwriting tests concluded Patsy did not pen the ransom note left at the scene but there were leaks from investigators that she might have used her left hand to write it. John Ramsey’s computers were seized and another police leak revealed they had reason to look for child porn. Ed Gelb, a highly regarded polygraph expert conducted five different tests with John and Patsy and concluded they “passed with flying colors – no deception.”
And the most remarkable under-reported news to my mind was the revelation that at the time of Jon Benet’s death there were 38 of her neighbors listed as registered sex offenders and there had been over 100 burglaries in the immediate area. To my knowledge the police did not pursue those leads even though the victim had been paraded around as a mini beauty queen. Further, nine months after the 6 year olds murder there was a very similar intruder/sex attack in the neighborhood. While the family was out a man broke in and hid in the house until they were asleep. He then attacked their 12 year old daughter but got away when the parents responded to her screams.
Yet still so many Americans, the media and the public, continued to point at the parents. Shame on us.
The Ramsey family survived the death of a child, public humiliation while “under an umbrella of suspicion”, repeated handwriting and lie detector tests, false leads and hopes, several recurrences of Patsy’s cancer and the maniacal rantings of a sexually confused kook.
In the spring of 2006 Patsy Ramsey was fighting what would be her last bout with ovarian cancer. And suddenly from out of the woodwork they began to get e-mail messages from half a world away. A slight, fragile looking man named John Mark Karr was taken into custody in the Philippines and paraded in front of the predictable gaggle of media where he confessed.
“I was with Jon Benet when she died,” he said and demurely batted his eyelashes. Asked, then to explain the details Karr simply said, “Her death was an accident.” Brought back to Colorado to face charges the authorities, instead, determined he was one of those inexplicable characters who confess to crimes they did not commit. By this time Patsy had died and was spared the spectacle.
In 2000 I was assigned to cover a lecture given by the Ramseys in Washington to a group of young journalists. I’d never known Patsy had studied journalism and was passionate about its ethics. Their message to the students that day was simple. Don’t print it or say it unless you can prove it. And in a twist on the Golden Rule Patsy said, “Don’t go forward and do to others what has been done to us.”
Good advice for all of us.