[This Court TV Transcript is about Patsy Ramsey being ambidextrous = October 25, 2000; transcript provided courtesy Justice Watch Forum]
JANE WALLACE: Welcome to the program. I'm Jane Wallace sitting in for Catherine Crier, who will return when her voice does. Could a break in the JonBenet case possibly be this simple? A new report in the National Enquirer claims the normally right-handed Patsy Ramsey is in reality ambidextrous and may have used her left hand to write that ransom note. Investigators have remained suspicious that while the ransom note didn't exactly match Patsy Ramsey's writing, it came pretty close. Here you see the Enquirer's comparision of the note next to a pageant application the Enquirer says was written eight days before. Ted Widmer joins us to talk about it. He's the director and principal instructor of the International School of Handwriting Sciences in San Francisco. He's also the author of Crime and Penmanship. In Los Angeles, Mike Walker, Senior Editor of the National Enquirer, also the host of the syndicated entertainment show, National Enquirer Uncovered. And in studio, Robert Tarver, criminal defense attorney extraordinaire. Welcome, all three. Thank you.
WALLACE: Mike Walker, it's your story, you're on first. Could it possibly be this simple after all this time?
WALKER: Well, for a long time investigators have known that the note was probably written by somebody who's ambidextrous. This is the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. But police have never been able to absolutely independently confirm that Patsy Ramsey was ambidextrous, so we decided because this case is so old and we're trying constantly to uncover new evidence, we went to witnesses everywhere, in Boulder, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and we talked to...
WALLACE: Where she grew up.
WALKER: Where she grew up, where Patsy grew up. We talked to people from her school days, teachers, etc, and we found a witness, a high school teacher who taught Patsy in the 1970's, who said very simply and matter-of-factly she is ambidextrous. She was as a child. She is now. We went to Linda Hoffmann-Pugh, the housekeeper, and when we asked her this she said, oh yeah, she said, Patsy told me she was ambidextrous. I've seen her brush her hair with her left hand. I've seen her paint with her left hand. I once saw her work on a science project with Burke, JonBenet's brother, where she wrote numbers and letters with her left hand. She is absolutely ambidextrous. This is very exciting evidence. As I'm sure Mr. Widmer, the handwriting expert, will tell you, if you look at the letter, the ransom note, the two and a half page ransom note, you can see indications that this was written by a person who was using their non-dominant hand. The shaky handwriting..
WALLACE: Okay, let's take a peek. Mr. Widmer, if you would go along with us here. Take a look at what is similar and what is not similar here, because my concern is that after all these years, the notoriety of the crime, the unsolved status of the crime, that at this point in time you could get somebody to say that Patsy Ramsey is the Ghost of Christmas Past, I mean, you could find someone who'd say just about anything along the line. So you tell me, how do tell when something is written by an am.. you know, someone who can write with both hands, come on, how does anybody know that?
WIDMER: Well, actually, I'm not sure that you can say that it's possible to tell somebody who's ambidextrous, from at least a single sample of the handwriting. Handwriting actually is a misnomer because if you lose a hand, for example, and have to write with the pen, for example, held in your mouth or between your cheek and your shoulder, your handwriting basically stays the same. You really should call this brain-writing rather than handwriting. There have been many occasions where people have lost a hand, like say their dominant hand was their right hand and they then had to learn how to write with their left hand, and basically the handwriting looks virtually the same. There may be a slant change or some change. But it is difficult to say. It's also very difficult to say if somebody's either left-handed or right-handed who actually wrote the note. I think the main thing here is that this ransom note was written by a person who was trying to disguise their handwriting.
WALLACE: Not to mention the language in it. Come on. What type of criminal ever writes Mr. Ramsey, listen carefully, exclamation point?
WIDMER: I agree. Actually I have some thoughts on the fact of how it was written, the words that were written, and so forth, because it's very difficult to believe a mother could actually write those words, even though I always felt that the note was dictated, though I can't tell you exactly why, it's more of a feeling from the forty years I've been doing document examination. I got the feeling that the note was not actually spontaneously written, but probably dictated by somebody else.
WALLACE: Okay, but maybe written by Patsy Ramsey? Are you buying this or not? I'm not sure what you think.
WIDMER: Well, I think the important thing to understand here is that you definitely cannot rule out Patsy Ramsey as a possible writer of the note.
WALKER: Well we, look, we hired the same handwriting expert that the FBI uses and that expert said that Patsy Ramsey wrote the note. The investigators at, Chet Ubowski, who's the chief investigator for the California Bureau of Investigation, was quoted in the recent book by the investigator who quit the case, saying, I believe she wrote the note.
WALLACE: Okay, but let's look into the whys here, as you're making that point, Mike. The R's for example. I mean, even I was a little bit convinced by the R's, even though I'm a little bit skeptical here. Let's look at some of the similarities between this pageant application and the actual ransom note, such as it was called, listen carefully exclamation point. If we can put up the graphic, I'd like to take a peek here. Look at the R's in both. I don't know if we can get in close. And the language. The language is so arch in that ransom note. By the time you get to page three, there is a quote that says something like use your southern manners....
WALKER: It's use your good common... southern common sense, John. Now, at the beginning of the note it says, and this is something that I came up with once when I was watching this on a television show. I looked at it and I said, look how it opens. We represent a small foreign faction, right? Okay...
WALLACE: What foreign faction calls itself a faction?
WALKER: Right, I was going to say... and what is going... what foreign faction, okay? I mean, I don't think Abu Ben Booby of the, you know, the Desert Liberation Front is going to say, use your good southern common sense, John. Unh-unh. That note is totally stilted. It is very arch, as Mr. Widmer points out. It was obviously written by somebody... I mean, look, intruders do not come to homes and say, gee I think I'll sit down and write me a nice two and half page ransom note while I have this dead body sitting here...
WALLACE: And I'm from a small faction of single mothers from the upper west side of New York. Okay, Mr. Tarver, get in here. You got to play the role of defense attorney.
TARVER: And you know what, it's not even hard here because the bottom line is when we strip away everything that everyone has said, Mr. Widmer says it best. We're at the same place we were before. The only thing that we know now is that the CBI and the Boulder Police have sunk to a new low. They've been out-investigated by the National Enquirer, no less. And you know, when I look at this whole thing, I'm reminded of the fact that PR gave a handwriting sample with her left hand to the police already. So this is nothing new. She already gave this sample, so ...
TARVER: ...obviously, they must have made a determination already...
WALKER: That's right.
TARVER: So this is nothing new. She already gave this sample, so they could compare it and obviously...
WALKER: What's new is the corroboration.
TARVER: Obviously, they must have made a determination even based on the sample that she gave that that was not enough, so here we are rehashing the same things over again, dragging this woman again over the coals, and what for? They've already got the information. They've already determined that it's not enough.
WALKER: Because she murdered her daughter.
TARVER: That's a conclusory statement, and in America we try to prove these things first before...
WALKER: That's what we're trying to do, counselor...
WIDMER: I'd like to ask a question if I could...
WALKER: ...and will continue trying to do.
WALLACE: Go ahead, Mr. Widmer, go ahead.
WALKER: And yes, she did give the handwriting sample. What you're missing here, this is corroboration that she is in fact ambidextrous, something the police could never determine...
TARVER: They could never go to these other sources, they could never talk to her housekeeper? You're telling me that the police were that inept that they'd never
WALKER: Yes, we are telling you that... we are the first ones who asked Linda Hoffmann-Pugh, right, when we asked Linda Hoffmann-Pugh she went yeah, Patsy was ambidextrous. We found the high school teacher.
TARVER: But they did have the presence of mind, they did have the presence of mind to have her take a sample with the other hand, which means that they must have had an idea that that might have been the case. They've done that. They've covered their bases. What else is there to show now?
WIDMER: ...something here if I may.
WALLACE: Mr. Widmer, when I listen to you talk about this as brain-writing, am I the only person whose handwriting developed by forging notes with their mother's signature? People can change their style of writing and if I tried to write a monkey note right now as a ransom note from a private faction, I'm not sure you could trace it to me.
WIDMER: Well, one of the tenants in handwriting identification is we always like to have the original sample. In other words, we like to have the one that was actually written with the pad and so forth, not a photocopy. None of us except for the people directly involved, apparently, in Colorado have actually seen the original note. The reason for that is because one of the main aspects of handwriting identification is pressure pattern. In other words, the force exerted, which is directly related to the neuromuscular system of the person. When you have a photocopy, you can't see that. But I do have a question I would like to ask, possibly of Mr. Turner because..
WALLACE: Tarver. Go ahead.
WIDMER: You may have more information than I do on this. But they might have taken exemplars with her left hand, but what were the exemplars? Something that's always bothered me about this case is I always question whether the exemplars were done correctly.
WALLACE: What do you mean - the samples they made her write, is that an exemplar?
WIDMER: That's what we call a... sample, exemplar, same...
TARVER: Quite frankly, I don't have that information, but something leads me to believe from a reading before that they may have taken entire series of words and not just light writing, but a series of words. But when you look at the whole thing, the question is, you would think that since the gentleman from the Enquirer is saying, look, our people, we've got the FBI expert says that this is the note, we've got people who have worked with this bureau and that bureau, they say this is the note... is there any way that this information can be corroborated? How come the CBI and the Boulder Police are not getting that same information? If it [cross-talk] conclusive.
WALKER: Well, they do. We have turned that over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. We've turned this evidence over. And I just told you that the chief handwriting expert for the CBI says, quote, I believe she wrote the note.
TARVER: I believe it's different than conclusive...
WALKER: It's up now to the prosecutors to, you know, to indict. I've never understood why that hasn't happened.
WALLACE: Okay, but you went one further, Mike Walker.
WALKER: I'm sorry?
WALLACE: You went one further. Not only did you believe she wrote the note, you believe she killed JonBenet. Why did you make that leap? Even if, as Mr. Widmer said, she may have been taking dictation. Why do you assume she was JonBenet's killer as well as the author of this note?
WALKER: Because of all of, I mean, why do I believe it? Because of the mountain of evidence that shows that there was no intruder in the house.
WALLACE: But why her, not him?
WALKER: I believe they were both complicit in it. I believe both of them know what happened that night and I believe they're both guilty in that regard and I've always believed that and that's my opinion.
TARVER: You know what the key is... the key word to what you're saying, Mr. Walker, quite respectfully, is what you believe and you're entitled to your beliefs but you know what, ...
WALKER: Yes it is. But I'm also... that's right.
TARVER: I've been in law for a long time, both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney, and when we presented cases as a prosecutor, it was more than just our belief. We went with what the evidence could show. That was our responsibility as public servants and this is...
WALKER: And you believe as a former prosecutor there's not enough here to just indict? I'm not saying to convict, I'm saying...
TARVER: You want to indict irresponsibly, I could indict you for the Ramsey murder if I wanted to, but if you want to do it responsibly...
watch me, watch me.
WALKER: I don't think it would be irresponsible.... oh no you couldn't, sir, I wasn't in the house that night. They were. They lied, they openly lied, they said...
TARVER: You've never been before a grand jury... you've obviously never been before a grand jury...
WALKER: Well, they said... what about all the evidence that shows that Burke, who was supposedly asleep, by their own testimony, suddenly is found on a tape wide awake saying, daddy, what did you find? How do explain that?
TARVER: Are you suggesting that they're just incompetent or looking the other way?
WALKER: I suggest...
TARVER: It has to be one of the two.
WALKER: ... that they are incompetent. I have also said that the prosecutor and the defense attorneys own a shopping center in Boulder. I find Boulder to be a town that is just incredibly indifferent to exhaustively finding out who did this crime.
WALLACE: Okay, Ted Widmer, we're going to get out of the field of belief here and into the field of courtroom fact. If it was your belief as an expert that she in fact may have authored this note with another hand, would that be enough to justify an indictment? Would it be enough to convict? Or it going to stay the same old basically suspended case?
WIDMER: I've always been amazed that the handwriting hasn't been a stronger factor in this entire case because we should be able to identify that handwriting. I would like to find out, or, if anyone knows, if they actually gave these handwriting samples in the way they should have, and the way they should have done this, and they may have, I don't know but I never heard them do this, is someone should have gotten a piece of paper the same size as the ransom note, found a pen that was similar, it looks from the photocopies I've seen..
WALLACE: Like a felt-tip.
WIDMER: Like a felt-tip, exactly. And then someone dictate her the entire ransom note, and have her do it with first the right hand and then the left hand and now you have a good examplar. If you had something like that and you had a handwriting expert who knew what he was doing and pair all the originals, the exemplar versus the original note, you would now have a very good piece of evidence because handwriting identification is accepted all over the world as a form of identification.
WALLACE: Mr. Tarver, you get the last fifteen seconds...
TARVER: It seems to me that those are established norms of handwriting analysis. I've worked with handwriting experts before...
TARVER: That's exactly what they do. So either you're saying that the people that are doing this are sub-par and not quality people, not qualified to do it, or you're saying that perhaps we don't have the quantum of evidence that we think we have, and that's why have to be careful when we point the finger and say this person is the murderer without the proof to back it up.
WALLACE: Mike Walker, last word, ten seconds.
WALKER: I just believe that this is new, startling evidence that should be examined. I believe that this is enough to show that Patsy Ramsey may have been complicit, may have written that ransom note.
WALLACE: Rob Tarver, Mike Walker and Ted Widmer, what an enjoyable discussion. Thank you very much.... and provocative.