Letter from Fleet and Priscilla White
To the people of Colorado:
On August 12, 1998, Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter announced that he would be presenting the JonBenet Ramsey murder case to a Boulder grand jury at the expense of the State of Colorado. Colorado grand jury law requires that both jurors and witnesses take an oath of secrecy regarding grand jury proceedings and testimony. In anticipation of receiving a subpoena to appear before that grand jury, we wish at this time to address matters concerning the investigation which we feel are of great importance to the people of Colorado and the Boulder community.
After JonBenet Ramsey was killed in Boulder nearly twenty months ago, her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, immediately hired prominent Democrat criminal defense attorneys with the law firm of Haddon, Morgan and Foreman. This firm and its partners have close professional, political and personal ties to prosecutors, the Denver and Boulder legal and judicial communities, state legislators, and high-ranking members of Colorado government, including Governor Roy Romer. The investigation of her death has since been characterized by confusion and delays. The district attorney and Ramsey defense attorneys started early in the investigation to condition the public to believe that these delays and the lack of a prosecution have resulted almost entirely from initial police bungling of the case and the non-cooperation of witnesses. This has continued to this day. Advising the district attorney since the early days of the investigation have been Denver metropolitan area district attorneys Bob Grant (Adams County), Bill Ritter (Denver County), Jim Peters (18th Judicial District), and Dave Thomas (1st Judicial District).
Recently, Boulder police detective Steve Thomas, an investigator on the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, left the department in disgust. In his August 6 letter of resignation, he publicly accused the district attorney of obstructing the police investigation and allowing politics to "trump'' justice. He asked that a special prosecutor be brought in to handle the case.
We knew JonBenet and her parents very well and have been closely involved in the investigation as witnesses. During the past year, we have also come to know and respect Mr. Thomas and were saddened and discouraged by his departure from the investigation. We share Mr. Thomas' view regarding the district attorney and his contention that overwhelming pressure brought to bear on the district attorney and police leadership from various quarters has thwarted the investigation and delayed justice in the case. While it is unlikely that the district attorney has been corrupted by Ramsey defense attorneys, it is certain that the district attorney and his prosecutors have been greatly influenced by their metro area district attorney advisers and by defense attorneys' chummy persuasiveness and threats of reprisals for anyone daring to jeopardize the civil rights of their victim clients. Indeed, the district attorney and the Ramsey attorneys have simultaneously rebuked the police for "focusing'' their investigation on the Ramseys when in fact police were simply following evidence. During the course of the investigation, the district attorney has used inexplicable methods including the recruitment of magazine writers and tabloids to leak information concerning the case and to needle witnesses, "suspects'', and police detectives. He has provided evidence to Ramsey defense attorneys at their request but denied reasonable requests by witnesses for their own statements to police. He has thoroughly alienated police detectives and key witnesses whose cooperation is vital to the investigation and prosecution. His public statements regarding the investigation have been erratic, evasive, and misleading. They have also been profoundly damaging to the case. Understandably, public confidence in the district attorney's handling of the investigation was low even before Mr. Thomas' letter.
Notwithstanding what the public has been led to believe, Boulder police leadership and detectives have been under the effective control of the district attorney and his advisers since the early days of the investigation.
In December, 1997, we met with Governor Romer to request that the state intervene and appoint an independent special prosecutor to take over the investigation and prosecution of the case. Citing the growing conflict between police and prosecutors and the delay of any progress in the investigation, we expressed our view that Boulder authorities were incapable of seeking justice. We also pointed out specific circumstances which we felt could inhibit or restrict Governor Romer's willingness to intervene. In early January, 1998, we were advised that he had decided against intervention on the advice of Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby. Chief Koby, who has since left the department, had told Governor Romer that the investigation was incomplete and therefore had not been given to the district attorney for prosecution. In short; there had been no failure to prosecute and thus no basis for the state's intervention. Upon learning of his decision, we wrote a letter published January 16, 1998, in the Boulder Daily Camera expressing our views and requesting that Governor Romer reconsider his decision. Recently, Governor Romer publicly stated that he did not recall the letter. We hope that this letter will make a stronger impression.
Since our meeting with Governor Romer eight months ago, the public has been shown the forced reconciliation of demoralized police detectives with the district attorney and his prosecutors and a sequence of odd and highly publicized milestones in the case. In March, 1998, police Chief Koby and lead investigator Mark Beckner (later to be appointed police chief), made an unusual public appeal to the district attorney for a grand jury investigation on the pro bono advice of three prominent Denver attorneys. In response, the district attorney requested a complete presentation by police of evidence. This presentation occurred over two days in early June, 1998, and was witnessed by prosecutors, representatives of the State Attorney General's office, prominent forensic scientists, and advisers of the district attorney and the police department. The public was then told that the investigation had been finally transferred to the district attorney from the police department and that the district attorney would now require some indeterminate length of time to review the case prior to making a decision concerning the police request for a grand jury investigation. Upon leaving the presentation, both Alex Hunter and Mark Beckner made inappropriate but tantalizing comments designed to give the public hope that the case may yet be "solved". They warned, however, that there was still a lot of work to do and that additional evidence was needed. Then, in late June,1998, the public was once again brought in on a major development in the case. The Ramseys were interviewed by representatives of the district attorney in a carefully orchestrated demonstration of their willingness to cooperate in the investigation now that biased and incompetent police detectives were no longer involved.
Most developments in the case brought to the public's attention throughout 1997 should be regarded as well-publicized but clumsy attempts by the district attorney and police leadership to look busy, follow long "task lists," and clean up investigative files while the district attorney killed time and spread-out responsibility for the case. On the other hand, "advances" in the case since early this year have been carefully planned to condition the public for a grand jury investigation. The district attorney's past indecision and the need for the police to ask him for a grand jury investigation were deliberate attempts to mislead the public. If based on nothing other than the district attorney's repeated public statements and leaks characterizing the case as "not prosecutable,'' there can be little doubt that, absent a confession, the people running the investigation had long ago decided against filing charges in the case. Instead, they manipulated public opinion to favor the use of the grand jury. There is compelling evidence, however, that their motivation for presenting the case to a grand jury has little or nothing to do with obtaining new evidence, grilling "reluctant" witnesses, or returning an indictment and everything to do with sealing away facts, circumstances and evidence gathered in the investigation in a grand jury transcript. It is our firm belief that the district attorney and others intend to use the grand jury and its secrecy in an attempt to protect their careers and also serve the conflicting interests of powerful, influential, and threatening people who have something to hide or protect or who simply don't want to be publicly linked to a dreadful murder investigation. Also weighing on the district attorney has been the matter of preserving and protecting the now "cooperative" and forthcoming Ramseys' rights as victims.
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In direct response to Mr. Thomas' recent letter, Governor Romer met on August 12, 1998, with district attorneys Grant, Ritter, Peters, and Thomas. Later that day, Governor Romer announced at a press conference that Hunter had told him that the case was "on track for a grand jury." Romer said that "it would be improper to appoint a special prosecutor now" but that to improve public confidence in the case he would make available to Hunter additional prosecutorial expertise. Shortly after the press conference, Hunter's offfice announced that the case would be presented to a grand jury in "order to gain additional evidence in the case." On August 13, 1998, the Rocky Mountain News offered an editorial entitled "Calling in the Calvary" in which the editor generally supported Governor's Romer's action but insightfully asked the obvious question: Why has it taken so long for Hunter's office to present the case to a grand jury? The editorial read:
"But if the Ramsey case is on track for a grand jury, as Romer insists, it seems to have been sitting on a siding for quite a long time awaiting clearance to proceed. This is all the more true given the fact that Ritter, Grant, Thomas, and Peters obviously believe that the grand jury must be used as an investigative tool in the Ramsey case, and not merely to reach a predetermined prosecutorial goal. If that is the case, why wasn't a grand jury used months ago? Indeed, why wasn't it used more than a year ago?"
Following the Sid Wells murder in Boulder in August, 1983, a grand jury investigating the high-profile case met off-and-on for fifteen months without returning an indictment. Quoted in the January 29, 1984, Denver Post, Boulder Assistant District Attorney Bill Wise revealed that the case had been originally referred to the grand jury "because of its power to further investigate the case. The district attorney didn't have subpoena power and we needed that tool." Hunter had waited less than three months before presenting the Wells murder case to a grand jury. Three months after the death of JonBenet Ramsey, police were still trying to interview John and Patsy Ramsey and obtain other evidence critical to the case.
There is a relatively simple but compelling answer to the question raised by the Rocky Mountain News editorial. Since very early in the case, there has been at least a tacit understanding among the district attorney, police leadership, those persons advising these agencies, and Ramsey defense attorneys that the case would be presented to a grand jury but not until the statutory Boulder grand jury was convened in April, 1998. This delay was deemed necessary by some or all of these parties in order to take advantage of a new statute (16-5-205.5, C.R.S.) concerning grand jury reporting procedures which was the result of legislation promoted by the Colorado District Attorney's Council and passed by the legislature in early March 1997. By law, however, this change in procedure would only apply to reports issued by grand juries convened after October 1, 1997. In order to take advantage of the new statute, a Boulder grand jury would have to wait until April, 1998, the next convening of the statutory Boulder grand jury subsequent to October 1, 1997. In order to accomplish this, it was necessary for these people to stall and cynically rely on the public's relative ignorance of the statute and the purpose and general nature of grand juries. The district attorney and police leadership worked hard to create the fiction that the police investigation was not "complete" and therefore not ready to be transferred to the district attorney. As long as the district attorney didn't have the case it would be difficult to fault him for not prosecuting or presenting the case to a grand jury. It was this fiction that was used by the district attorney to deflect mounting criticism including that contained in our letter in January, 1998. It also served as the basis for a Boulder court to throw out a suit brought against the district attorney by New York attorney Darnay Hoffman who had accused the district attorney of "constructively abandoning the case." The district attorney's publicly expressed indecision in late 1997 regarding a grand jury investigation gave way to his progressively greater "leaning" toward such a decision as the date for convening the Boulder grand jury drew near.
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House Bill 97-1009 was drafted by the Colorado District Attorneys Council in late 1996 and was introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives on January 8, 1997, two weeks after JonBenet was killed. HB 97-1009 was sponsored by Representative Bill Kaubman, a Republican, and Senator Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat.
The impetus for this bill was the desire of the Council to effect legislation changing an existing statute (16-5-205 (4), C.R.S.) regarding the issuance of grand jury reports in those cases where there is not an indictment. The matter was discussed by the district attorneys and legislators at a conference in the summer of 1996. The existing statute allowed the issuance of reports but was argued to be confusing and overly restrictive. As a result, grand jury reports were nonexistent. In a January 19, 1997 editorial supporting passage of the bill, The Denver Post pointed to the inconclusive grand jury investigations concerning DIA and police conduct in the high profile Ocrant case in Arapahoe County. Also mentioned was the recent Truax officer-involved shooting case in which Denver DA Bill Ritter chose not to use a grand jury to investigate possible police officer misconduct because of his concern that the grand jury might not report its findings to the public. Citing these cases, the Post "...urged that in the balance between the public's right to information and the statutory demand for grand jury secrecy, public disclosure should carry more weight than it now does." The Post editorial went on to say:
"The proposed law would instruct judges to determine whether the report should be released and allow for withholding any parts necessary to protect witnesses. It also would give witnesses an opportunity to see reports and file opposing motions if they object to their release.
Such reports could go a long way toward dispelling doubts like those that still linger over the DIA and Truax investigations, and by providing all witnesses with safeguards against disclosures that might damage or embarrass them, still preserve the confidentiality that is both the armor and the engine of the grand jury process."
The original draft of the bill was presented to the House Judiciary Committee by Representative Kaufman at a hearing on January 21, 1997, long after the Ramsey case had exploded into a national news story amid growing suspicions of police mishandling of the case. Speaking in favor of the bill before the committee were district attorneys Ritter, Thomas, and Grant. All of these district attorneys, along with Jim Peters, would be named publicly as advisers to Alex Hunter on the Ramsey case a few weeks later on February 14,1997. It is clear from the draft bill and from their comments at this hearing that they intended reporting by grand juries to be on matters generally limited to allegations of non-criminal misconduct by public employees, officials, and agencies but only when such information regarding those allegations was in the public interest. At the hearing, Mr. Ritter stated:
"...there are other matters where we bring...an issue into the grand jury for investigation and it grows legs and we find ourselves investigating the conduct of government officers, the conduct of public employees, the conduct of government programs where, because tax dollars are involved, the public does have a right to know something about the operation even if it they fall short of the conduct being criminal and that, I think, is the real meaning behind a bill like this."
Also speaking in favor of the bill were John Dailey, Head of the Criminal Enforcement Unit of the Attorney General's offlce and Kim Morss of the Colorado Judicial Department appearing at the request of the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Also speaking in favor of the bill was Marge Easton of the Colorado Press Association.
On March 5, 1997, Senator Perlmutter presented the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Appearing once again to speak in favor of the bill were Bill Ritter, Marge Easton, and John Dailey. Also speaking for the bill were Ray Slaughter and Stu Van Meveren of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.
The final bill was passed on March 21, 1997. Included in the bill were specific criteria to be used by grand juries and prosecutors in determining what constitutes the "public interest" for the purpose of a grand jury report:
"(5) Release of a grand jury report pursuant to this section may be deemed to be in the public interest only if the report addresses one or more of the following:
(a) Allegations of the misuse or misapplication of public funds;
The original intent of the Colorado District Attorney Council draft and that of Representative Kaufman was to make it easier for grand juries to issue reports in cases where there is not an indictment returned but where, in the public interest, the grand jury wishes to address allegations of misconduct by public employees falling short of criminal conduct. The final bill made it possible for a grand jury to address allegations of 1st and 2nd degree murder and the two classes of child abuse resulting in death. The new statute would enable a Boulder grand jury investigating the death of JonBenet Ramsey to publicly exonerate someone who has been alleged to have of committed one of these crimes but only in the event an indictment was not returned. The bill was signed into law by Governor Romer on April 8, 1997.We strongly urge those wishing to investigate the intentions and motives of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, legislators, and those speaking on behalf of the bill to review the Senate and House Journals and listen to tapes of the House and Senate Judiciary Hearings and floor debates on file at the Colorado State Archives, 1313 Sherman Street, Room lB20, Denver.
During the Senate Judiciary Hearing on March 5, 1997, and after the bill had been amended to include the criteria defining the public interest, Senator Perlmutter stated that he had "...contacted several defense attorneys I know in Denver and they were all supportive of it (the bill). They thought it was a good idea." According to records at the Secretary of State's Office, Sen. Perlmutter received a 1994 campaign contribution from Hal Haddon, defense attorney for John Ramsey. The Haddon firm is well known for its expertise in grand jury practice. Norman Mueller, a partner of the firm, once wrote in the April, 1988 issue of The Colorado Lawyer "...defense counsel must creatively and vigorously scrutinize the grand jury process at the earliest possible stage of the case."
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The May 6, 1998 issue of the Colorado Journal, a publication for the legal community, presented an article flattering to Alex Hunter entitled "D.A. Winks At This One-With or Without a Grand Jury Indictment Boulder's Prosecutor Will Still Shine." The article is written around comments received from Senator Perlmutter and district attorney Bill Ritter. It reads:
"If Hunter does take the matter to the grand jury and that panel manages to wrestle the evidence it needs to hand down an actual indictment, Hunter will appear the hero for going that route.
But if they fail to do so, Hunter could still come out smelling like a rose with the help of a little-known state law that went into effect last fall: That grand jury reports may be released to the public if no indictment results from its probe.
That way, a prosecutor facing pressure to file charges can say, 'See even the grand jury couldn't find anything,' said Sen Ed Perlmuner, D-Golden, who co- sponsored the law in the 1997 Colorado Legislature. "The law, which only applies to Class 1, 2, and 3 felony cases, was intended to help ease the public's mind in certain investigations where a prosecutor fails to file charges, despite pressure from the police to do so as in the JonBenet case," he said.
In the article Sen. Perlmutter indicated that he sponsored the bill because he "didn't want the grand juries to be abused, especially in high-profile cases as this one (the Ramsey case)."
For his part, Mr. Ritter said:"I don't think Alex Hunter would go to the grand jury for political cover, that's just not how Alex Hunter operates," said Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter. "The reason you go to a grand jury is because, as DA you do not have the ability in the state of Colorado to compel testimony or compel the production of documents."
But then the article speculates:
The article was misleading in that it stated that the new grand jury statute designed by Mr. Ritter and Senator Perlmutter to protect and exonerate people and "vindicate" the reputations of public servants was "effective" and therefore available for use by a Boulder grand jury on October 1, 1997. It also inaccurately described what allegations the statute deemed of public interest.
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For the purpose of assisting them in the Ramsey investigation, the Boulder Police Department in July 1997 accepted the pro bono legal services of Daniel S. Hoffman with the firm of McKenna & Cuneo, Robert N. Miller with the firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green, and MacRae, and Richard N. Baer with the firm of Sherman & Howard. All are prominent Denver attorneys. Responding to our public information request, the Boulder city attorney's offce supplied us with copies of the final agreement between the city and these attorneys dated July 30, 1997 and an earlier draft of that agreement dated July 28, 1997. In the draft, these attorneys jointly made the following disclosures to the city:
"As we indicated to you, our respective firms have or had certain relationships that we feel obligated to disclose to you. Specifically:
1. Sherman & Howard L.L.C. ("S. & H.") represents Lockheed Martin in various matters. Lockheed Martin currently owns Access Graphics, the company that employs the father of the deceased. In addition, in 1994, S. & H. represented Access Graphics in a lawsuit brought by a terminated employee...
2. Mr. Hoffman is outside counsel for Lockheed Martin in a number of litigations, one of which is currently pending. It is reasonable to assume that during our representation of you, Mr. Hoffman may be retained by Lockheed Martin. Additionally, Mr. Haddon represents Mr. Hoffman personally, in a case against Mr. Hoffman, his former law firm, and a number of Mr. Hoffman's former partners at the firm.
3. Robert Miller is currently co-counsel with Mr. Haddon on a litigation in which they obtained a significant verdict for their client and which will proceed on appeal."
John Ramsey was the president and chief executive officer of Access Graphics, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation. In the fall of 1997 Access Graphics was sold by Lockheed Martin to GE Capital in a complicated transaction reported in the news media to be valued at $2.8 billion. The value attributed to Access Graphics was likely in excess of $200 million. Prior to the sale, John Ramsey left Access Graphics under adverse circumstances after attempting to purchase Access Graphics from Lockheed Martin. Mr. Hoffman was identified in the April 18, 1997 issue of Colorado Journal to be the "lead attorney" for Lockheed Martin in an age discrimination case which days before had resulted in a $7.6 million settlement. The "Mr. Haddon'' referred to in the disclosures is Harold Haddon, the criminal defense attorney currently representing John Ramsey. The final agreement that was executed by the city and these three attorneys did not contain these disclosures. According to Mr. Baer, they were deleted at the request of the city attorney. The city attorney has recently indicated to us that he has no knowledge of the role these attorneys have played in the investigation.
On March 10, 1998, the Boulder Daily Camera reported that "DA hints Ramsey case headed for grand jury." Two days later, the Boulder police made their request for a grand jury on the advice of these attorneys and transferred the case to the district attorney.
On April 22, 1998, the Boulder grand jury was convened.
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It is certain that Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter; the metro area district attorneys advising Mr. Hunter; the current leadership of the Boulder Police Department, the three attorneys advising the Boulder Police Department, and Ramsey defense attorneys have known since HB97-1009 was signed by Governor Romer on April 8, 1997, that to take advantage of the new statute, it would be necessary to delay a grand jury investigation of the Ramsey case until April, 1998. In retrospect, it is clear that the case was delayed for that purpose. It is hard to imagine that Governor Romer and members of the office of the Attorney General and the Colorado Judiciary Department have not also long known this.
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The Boulder County District Attorney and members of his office have delayed the investigation of the death of JonBenet Ramsey in order to take advantage of a statute which will, if an indictment is not returned, enable him to persuade a grand jury to issue a report telling the public that the case was delayed and that an indictment was not returned as a result of police misconduct and the noncooperation of witnesses. It will also enable him to publicly exonerate anyone alleged to have murdered JonBenet Ramsey. If he wishes such a report to be made, and of course he does since it would contain precisely what he has been saying throughout the investigation, he must first cause the grand jury not to return an indictment.
This, then, is how politics will have been allowed, finally, to trump justice.
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Delaying the case in this manner simply to serve the selfish interests of a relatively small number of public servants and wealthy and powerful people has destroyed the case's infrastructure which consists of the confidence and trust of witnesses and thpublic in the criminal justice system and the hard work done in good faith by police detectives. That he has allowed this destruction is compelling evidence that Alex Hunter and those advising him have no intention of seeking an indictment from a grand jury. By their actions, these people have demonstrated cynical and callous disregard for the people of Colorado, the criminal justice system, and the well being and safety of the Boulder community and its citizens.
What distinguishes the investigation of JonBenet's death from all others, and what has so seriously handicapped the investigation, is the extraordinary number of people that it has affected and influenced. The people of Colorado wish to see justice for JonBenet. They must not accept the "conclusion" to the case now being offered by the Boulder County District Attorney and Governor Romer. We will not.
After further assessing public opinion and reviewing the contents of this letter and that of Mr. Thomas, we hope it will occur to Governor Romer that evidence in this case must be reviewed by those who have no interest in seeking anything other than justice for JonBenet. Any further involvement of the Boulder County District Attorney, his prosecutors, or anyone else responsible for the delay of the case is totally unacceptable. The people of Colorado must demand that Governor Romer resist the advice of interested parties, including the district attorneys advising Alex Hunter, and immediately order the Attorney General to take over the investigation and any future prosecution. He must then excuse himself from any further involvement. He is simply too close to people whose lives and careers may hinge on what becomes of the case.
Taking this action will be difflcult for both Governor Romer and Attorney General Gale Norton who are serving the last months of their terms and are term limited from seeking re-election. They must nevertheless set politics and personal considerations aside and conscientiously deal with this problem now. It is unacceptable for them to further erode public confidence by passing that responsibility to their successors.
The people of Colorado are entitled to be frustrated and angry with those public offlcials and other persons who have brought this case to its current status. We must be mindful, however, of the first cause of the investigation's failure - the refusal of John and Patsy Ramsey to cooperate fully and genuinely with those offlcially charged with the responsibilty of investigating the death of their daughter, JonBenet.
- Fleet Russell White, Jr. and Priscilla Brown White