Letter to the Editor
As witnesses in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation, we are reluctant to express our views regarding the investigation. At this time, however, we feel compelled to address matters which we feel to be of great importance. There is a widely held perception that the investigation has been plagued by intense news media coverage and the improper conduct of the Boulder Police Department and the Boulder County District Attorney.
There can be no question that the wide circulation of facts, evidence, and opinions has had a debilitating effect on the investigation. Equally damaging, however, have been public statements made by officials which, because of their nature and discontinuity, have created confusion and anxiety not only for the public but also for law enforcement personnel and witnesses. It must be clear at this point that the extraordinary circumstances of this crime and its investigation do not lend themselves to discussion or debate in a public forum. Doing so will only serve to jeopardize the civil rights of involved parties, reduce the willingness of witnesses to cooperate, and make the task of law enforcement agencies investigating the case more difficult.
Public officials who contemplate the release of information concerning the case or who desire to publicly express their opinions must be mindful of these risks. Such statements and the release of information should only serve the goals of furthering the investigation or protecting the public. There are simply no other valid reasons for making information regarding the investigation available to the public. It is likely that few, if any, statements of fact or opinion made by public officials concerning the Ramsey investigation have met this standard. For this case to proceed in a positive manner it will be necessary to do all that is practically possible to integrate the activities of a prosecutor and police investigators and shield their investigation from public view until such time when an arrest is made. As witnesses, we have developed confidence and trust in Boulder Police Department investigators. While we recognize that errors have been made in the investigation, we feel strongly that these officers and their leadership are committed both personally and professionally to assembling a valid case which will lead to an arrest and conviction. Furthermore, we are greatly encouraged by their addition of competent legal counsel who are aiding their investigation.
We have not, on the other hand, developed such sentiments toward the Boulder County District Attorney. On the contrary, we feel that the Boulder County District Attorney has not acted in a manner consistent with an agency which must work with police investigators and witnesses in a positive and professional manner. Our sentiments toward the Boulder County District Attorney are based on our personal experiences which have been augmented by the following considerations:
1. There are various relationships between the Boulder County District Attorney and members of the Boulder and Denver legal communities which may have impaired the objectivity of the Boulder County District Attorney with respect to a case brought before it by the Boulder Police Department.
2. The Boulder County District Attorney under the leadership of District Attorney Alex Hunter has been criticized in the past for not being an aggressive prosecutor of homicide cases.
3. There appears to be an atmosphere of distrust and non-cooperation between the Boulder County District Attorney and the Boulder Police Department regarding the investigation. This relationship appears to be irreparably damaged with respect to the Ramsey case.
4. There is a strong impression that the Boulder County District Attorney has acted improperly by sharing evidence and other information with attorneys and other parties not officially involved in the investigation.
5. There is a strong impression that Alex Hunter and members of his staff have acted inappropriately by giving their opinions and information regarding the investigation to various news media organizations. This impression has been strengthened recently by the statements made by District Attorney Alex Hunter appearing in the Jan. 19, 1998, issue of New Yorker magazine. His comments regarding the police investigation are mean-spirited and entirely devoid of any constructive aspect. We feel that his decision to state publicly these opinions regarding an on-going homicide investigation clearly defines his poor judgment and wanton disregard for all parties involved in this investigation and for the criminal justice system. The fact that he made some of these statements five months ago, as has been recently suggested, does nothing to make them less inexcusable. What public service did Mr. Hunter envision when he made such statements and revealed details of the investigation over a period of five months to a noted journalist who has publicly announced his intention to write a book about the investigation?
These considerations cannot be ignored in an attempt to understand the present status of the investigation or in anticipating its future course. At a minimum, these considerations have created the strong appearance of impropriety, professional incompetence and a lack of objectivity. Additionally, the suit against Alex Hunter brought by Darnay Hoffman, regardless of its merit, has reinforced this appearance in the public consciousness. In this context, the following questions must be asked:
1. Is the Boulder County District Attorney capable of inspiring the confidence and trust of police investigators and relevant witnesses in order that a case may be developed in such a manner as to maximize the likelihood of an arrest?
2. Is the Boulder County District Attorney capable of objectively and professionally evaluating the merit of a case presented to it by the Boulder Police Department?
3. Is the Boulder County District Attorney capable of aggressively and professionally coordinating and conducting a prosecution or other court proceedings in a manner most likely to result in an indictment and a successful prosecution?
On Dec. 18, 1997, we met with Gov. Roy Romer to urge that he intervene immediately to remove the Boulder County District Attorney from any involvement in the case and appoint an independent special prosecutor. On Jan. 7, 1998, we were notified by Governor Romer that he had decided not to intervene. In a Jan. 12, 1998, letter from Gov. Romer, we were formally notified of his decision. In this letter, he stated that he had "decided not to intervene in this matter at this time" and indicated that his decision was "based in part on the fact that the police investigation is not yet complete and the case has not been referred to the district attorney for prosecution." While he did not specify what other factors were considered in arriving at his decision, we can only hope that they derive from sound recommendations received from knowledgeable and unbiased officials involved in the investigation who are in possession of compelling facts which are not available to us.
If Gov. Romer is inclined to intervene but feels that such a decision would now be untimely, we would submit that the passage of time cannot be expected to reduce the obstacles facing the investigation and the prosecution. In their effort to follow evidence, construct a valid case, and to maintain the confidence of witnesses, the Boulder Police Department needs the immediate participation and guidance of a supportive and competent prosecutor.
The idea of waiting for the case to be "completed" and to be "referred" to the Boulder County District Attorney presupposes that the negative effect of the presence of the Boulder County District Attorney in the investigation will somehow be mitigated in the future. It ignores the practical problem that the Boulder Police Department and relevant witnesses have no confidence in the ability of the Boulder County District Attorney to prudently handle evidence and to professionally and impartially consider a case presented to it.
Furthermore, it is unreasonable for Governor Romer or for any of us to rely on civic and law enforcement officials who offer assurances that they can somehow eliminate the differences between the Boulder Police Department and the Boulder County District Attorney in an effort to move the case forward purposefully when they have so amply demonstrated their inability to do so. Nor should we or Gov. Romer rely on the Hoffman suit or similar actions that may follow. It appears that these will only result in meaningless debate over semantics and, at best, lead to protracted and contentious court proceedings and investigations. As for the concern that the removal of the Boulder County District Attorney from the Ramsey case will jeopardize the future relationship between the Boulder Police Department and the Boulder County District Attorney on other cases, it is more likely that the continued presence of the Boulder County District Attorney in the Ramsey case will only serve to lessen the prospects of a healthy future relationship.
We again respectfully request that Gov. Romer intervene in this matter and level the playing field in Boulder. The Boulder Police Department has but one goal in this matter which is to bring the person or persons who have committed crimes to justice. The police are handicapped by those who are acting to obfuscate and confuse the facts of this investigation. At this point there is little to be gained by speculating about who these people are and what reasons they may have for doing so. That can be left for another day. We request that Governor Romer immediately intervene and remove the Boulder County District Attorney and its offices from the investigation and appoint a competent and completely independent special prosecutor who is capable of establishing and maintaining the confidence and the trust of the Boulder Police Department, witnesses in the case, and the public whereby to maximize the likelihood of a successful conclusion to this case. Regardless of the nature of his decision, we request that Governor Romer announce it publicly and that he make clear his reasoning. We ask the people of Colorado and especially the people of Boulder to join us in this respect.
The investigation of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey has profoundly hurt many innocent people. It has caused the Boulder community and many of its leaders and institutions to be degraded. It has engendered contempt for Boulder's law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system. Governor Romer, with the support of the people of Boulder, must attend to these matters now.
Fleet Russell White, Jr.