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Burden of Proof

'The Death of Innocence': John and Patsy Ramsey Speak Out About the Murder of JonBenet

Aired March 20, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: John and Patsy Ramsey speak out about the murder of their daughter JonBenet, a police investigation which focused on the family and the media frenzy which they say impeded the search for their daughter's killer. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, "The Death of Innocence."

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

More than three years after the murder of their younger child, the parents of JonBenet Ramsey remain under an umbrella of suspicion, according to Boulder police. But John and Patsy Ramsey say they have their own suspicions that an intruder killed their daughter. Their new book, "The Death of Innocence," is described as the untold story of JonBenet's murder. The Ramseys say the exploitation of their family compromised the pursuit of truth and the failure to investigate people outside the family allowed the killer to walk free.

Joining us today from Atlanta is Pam Paugh, who's the sister of Patsy Ramsey. In Denver, we're joined by Greg Walta, who's the attorney for retired homicide detective Lou Smit. Also in Denver, Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant. And in here in Washington, John Vaterlas (ph), former federal prosecutor David Schertler, and Thomas Alston (ph). And in our back row, Bryce Whittaker (ph), Kenneth Jackman (ph) and Angela Glen (ph).

Pam, let me go first to you. The book, "The Death of Innocence," written by your sister and brother-in-law, why did they write it?

PAM PAUGH, SISTER OF PATSY RAMSEY: Well, Greta, first of all, I think it was time. Obviously once the grand jury was finalized and they came back with no indictment against the appropriate killer or killers, I think it was clear that it was time for Patsy and John to speak out. We have known all along that evidence existed of an intruder, even the evidence that is out today vis-a-vis the "Newsweek" article and Lou Smit. There is more on top of that, and we know that we must find this killer. And, secondly, I think that Patsy and John felt somewhat that the public did want to know them as people instead of the suspected suspicious murderers that they had been portrayed to be unfairly. And so they were trying to give the public a glimpse of who they really are and what they've been through.

VAN SUSTEREN: Greg, you represent Lou Smit -- Smits. What does he bring to this case? Who is he?

GREG WALTA, ATTORNEY FOR LOU SMIT: Lou Smit may be the most experienced homicide detective in the state of Colorado; certainly one of the most effective ones. I headed the state public defender system for four years here, saw homicides investigated across the state, and Lou Smit's in a class by himself. He's just the best.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, was he assigned to this investigation?

WALTA: No, he wasn't. Lou was retired at the time because his wife was suffering from cancer and he was called by Alex Hunter to try to bring the investigation together. I think Alex recognized that Lou has tremendous courage and ability and wanted him to come out there and take over the investigation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who did Lou -- did Lou think someone other than the Ramseys committed this murder?

WALTA: When Lou was first brought into the case, he thought probably the Ramseys were the guilty parties. But as he started following the evidence, he became more and more convinced that an intruder was in the house that night and did the killing.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened to him in the sense as it relates to the investigation? He's no longer on the investigation.

WALTA: No, after about 18 months, Lou became frustrated. He felt like the blinders were on in terms of the police department, that they had focused on their suspects and were bending the evidence in an effort to indict the Ramseys. He felt that they were ignoring intruder evidence and just didn't want to be part of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, I know that you can't discuss the evidence of the case, but tell me this: What is the status of the investigation?

BOB GRANT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ADAMS COUNTY, COLORADO: Well, despite everybody's books and revelations, the investigation is still ongoing. There is still forensic analysis going on. The investigation is not going to be put to rest until somebody's brought to the bar of justice.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, is it actually funded so that it's an active investigation? because a lot of these investigations cost a lot of money. I mean, is it funded?

GRANT: It's an ongoing investigation within the Boulder Police Department and the Boulder County District Attorney's Office. So, yes, it's funded. It's funded by the usual government sources of funds. It's not an outside-funded investigation, no.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, is someone -- are there actually detectives who are assigned full time to this investigation right now?

GRANT: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how many are assigned so that I get some idea of how big this investigation is?

GRANT: I don't -- I can't answer that question, Greta. I know that there are four detectives that are still extremely concerned about completing this investigation, and I know that there are at least two detectives that are still, on a daily basis, doing work.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dave, of course, you know, we're 1,500 miles away or more from Colorado. It's hard to predict, but what do you make of the fact that we're now -- this homicide occurred December of '96 and still no answer?

DAVID SCHERTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I mean, it starts to look pretty pessimistic in terms of being able to solve the case. In fact, we used to say that most homicide cases were solved within the first 48 hours. What you're faced with now -- and I'm not sure whether Bob would agreement, but he's got a lot of experience -- they've exhausted all the evidence that they have available to them. To solve a case at this point, after 2 1/2 years or 3 years since the murder occurred, generally the way you solve those cases is if the actual murderer confesses to a person who then calls the police and gives them a tip about who did it. That's the one way you might solve this case. I just don't see any other way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, what do you make of the criticism that has been lodged in this investigation against the police, that they decided on December 26 who did it, that they believe the Ramseys did, and that the investigation, in essence, stopped there -- the police simply went out to try to prove the Ramseys did it and they didn't look in other directions?

GRANT: Well, you know, part of what has hampered this case investigation has been the incredible intense media scrutiny -- worldwide media scrutiny. When the case was not solved, clearly the police are going to be the brunt -- bear the brunt of that circumstance. Sure, there's been a lot of criticism, and some of it deserved, but I don't know a police department or a police investigation that hasn't done something wrong during the course of an investigation. That's not going to stop them or deter them from following the evidence and making sure that they do everything they can to see that there is a resolution and that the killer of this little girl is brought to justice.

VAN SUSTEREN: Greg, what about that criticism? Does your client, Lou Smit, share that criticism, that the police focused on the Ramseys and looked no other place?

WALTA: Yes, I think he does. He feels fairly strongly about that, feels like once they found the note, once they found that it had been written in the home, they concluded that the Ramseys did it and really got tunnel vision.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pam, what's life been like for your sister and brother-in-law over the past 3 1/2 years? PAUGH: Does the term hell on Earth make it succinct enough for you, Greta? It's been a nightmare, a living nightmare.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are they doing anything to pursue the intruder theory or are they waiting for the police to do something?

PAUGH: Yes and yes. We are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to find JonBenet's killer. There are numerous lead that come in daily and we turn those over to our investigators and so forth. We have piles and piles of leads and tips that need to be further looked into, even to the point that we can as citizens with our private investigators. And therein lies the gap right now for us.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do those tips get transferred -- do you give those tips to the police?

PAUGH: I'm not really involved in actually handing over things, but I guess my question is, how do we go from knowing that we have this information to get someone in an authority capacity to act on it?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break.

Up next, if an intruder broke into the Ramsey home on Christmas day, he or she would have had hours to stake out the house before the family returned. Is this when a ransom note was written? Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

In a television interview Sunday, Independent Counsel Robert Ray said he has not ruled out filing criminal charges against President Clinton. Ray says he's bringing in investigators from the FBI and other agencies to help him make a decision.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: you can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

John and Patsy Ramsey say an intruder broke into their home on Christmas night, 1996, and killed their daughter. Skeptics claim there are too many evidentiary matters which dispute the intruder theory, including the unusual amount of money in the ransom demand, the long ransom letter, and the fact that JonBenet's favorite blanket was found lying at her side.

Greg, your client who investigated this case, Lou Smit, believes there was an intruder as well. What is the evidence that he points in the -- that he suggests points in the direction of an intruder? WALTA: Well, there have been a lot of false leaks on this issue, one of the most outrageous ones is that the house was surrounded by snow with no signs of disturbance, in fact, most sides of the house were free of snow; and on the side of the house where Lou thinks entry was made, there was a window that was wide open. In fact, it was the first photo the police took because they thought it was that significant.

The window also had a black scuff mark on the wall underneath it. A suitcase had been moved from another room and placed against the wall as kind of a stepping-stone, and the debris from the window well had been disturbed and, there was a good deal of debris, styrofoam peanuts and leaves on the floor of the basement beneath this window. Lou is convinced that there was an entry made that night through that window.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about DNA that was found -- I have read that DNA was found under JonBenet's fingernails, which indicates that it was a man not John Ramsey; is that right?

WALTA: That's true. There were other signs of an intruder, there was a fresh footprint in the basement; there was a fresh palm print on the door where she was found; there was a styrofoam peanut found next to her, out of the window well apparently. And then there was DNA under her fingernails, which is common when somebody is strangled. They struggle and scratch the intruder or the assailant. That was found and there was DNA found in her panties, none of that belongs to any of the Ramsey family; it is male DNA; and it is a certain sign of an intruder.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, what does the autopsy, which is now in the public domain, so I suspect that you are free to talk about it, what does it say is the cause of death? the official cause of death of this child?

GRANT: Well, Greta, I haven't answered those questions in the past and I'm not going to answer them now. Let me say this, there is an important thing to understand here...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me just interrupt you, we are having a little technical problem. Let me go to Pam.

Pam, what do -- do your brother-in-law and sister have a sort of a universe of people who they think are suspects the police should follow?

PAUGH: Well, in our minds, there has always been a university of people, because as Patsy and John have said many times, we would like to believe that we don't personally know anyone in our circle of friends who would commit this heinous crime, or who would hate us enough to want to destroy us by taking our beautiful JonBenet.

But we do have, based on tips, leads, evidence, et cetera, we do have in our minds a rather short list of a dozen or so suspects that we feel should be looked into far beyond asking the question just where were you that night, and do you have the alibi of a spouse or something such as that. These are suspects with clearly historical things in their lives that could lead potentially up to the psychological ramifications that it would take to commit this sort of crime.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dave, I mean, I think what is most curious to me is the presence of DNA, assuming it to be correct, under JonBenet's fingernails that are not her fathers and they have unable to link it to someone. What do you make of that?

SCHERTLER: Well, you know, obviously, that's exculpatory for the Ramseys. And it does seem to add some plausibility to this outside intruder theory, if the DNA doesn't match. The theory would be that in the course of a struggle, she had somehow scratched her assailant, and got this DNA under her fingernail, and if that DNA doesn't match any of the family members, then it seems point to somebody from the outside.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know what is so curious, Dave, is the fact that, you know, it seems at this point that because the Ramseys were there, although they seem likely to be the only suspects, of course they are under the umbrella of suspicion because they were these. If I were there, I would be under this umbrella of suspicion. But the one thing that I haven't seen is the evidence which points towards a motive for them or evidence linking them, you know, that's come out of that investigation, at least that we know?

SCHERTLER: Well, I think that's one of the big problems here, you don't have any kind of history of abuse of this child that we can look at or point to, that you do have I think in other cases where children are killed. You know, the problem here is that the evidence is sketchy and it's conflicting, nobody can rule out the possibility of an outside intruder, in fact, that seems somewhat plausible. On the other hand, nobody has a plausible theory as to why the Ramseys would do this, or if they did it, who and how it was done. Under that circumstances, you could never bring a case and prosecute a case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Greg, the Ransom note has sort of a peculiar figure of $118,000, which is the amount that John Ramsey was getting in a bonus that year. However, the -- John Ramsey has been excluded as the writer of that note. And I understand Patsy Ramsey has virtually been excluded as well. What -- Greg, what does your client make of the amount. Is that the least bit curious to him in the ransom note?

WALTA: Yeah, there are a lot of curious things in this case that point every which way. It's far from a crystal clear case no matter how you cut it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there -- There was a baseball bat that was found. What does your client -- Where was that baseball bat found? And how does your client believe that relates to this case?

WALTA: It was found in the bushes outside the house. There were some fibers on it that connected it to the near crime scene, but again, there's not the additional evidence, DNA material and other things, that you might expect to find on a bat that was used to strike a blow to the head. There was a crushing blow to the head in this case.

VAN SUSTEREN: But Greg, what about fingerprints on a baseball bat?

WALTA: No fingerprints that I'm aware of were found on that bat.

VAN SUSTEREN: Take a break.

Up next, Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter won't pursue reelection. But is the JonBenet Ramsey case over? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: On this day in 1863, Justice Stephen J. Field was sworn-in as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Why did President Abraham Lincoln nominate Field, who was a Democrat?

A: Because of Field's staunch support of the Union cause.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Last October, District Attorney Alex Hunter announced the conclusion of a grand jury investigation of the JonBenet Ramsey murder. The probe didn't result in any charges, but Hunter vowed to, quote, "continue to follow the evidence in this case, as long as there is work to be done."

Bob, let me ask you about your governor, Governor Bill Owens, last fall, made some statements. He said that the Ramseys should come back to Colorado and quit hiding behind their attorneys. And he's now saying that he thinks that this book is part of some orchestrated campaign. Do you think that the governor's statements are, perhaps, over the line in terms of fairness; this is an ongoing investigation?

GRANT: Well, the governor of this state, like the governor of most states, they're politicians; they are not criminal justice professionals; they are not investigators. His statement was a political statement. I think it was unfortunate that it was made; I think it was unfortunate....

VAN SUSTEREN: Dave, what is your reaction to a governor making statements?

SCHERTLER: A governor has no business making statements like this. You know, you and I both know that the criminal justice system is supposed to work based on the evidence that's submitted to whether it's a grand jury or a trial jury. A governor or a public official has no business making comments like that that clearly insinuate his belief that the Ramseys are responsible.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pam, do you have the sense that your sister and brother-in-law think that Colorado has been fair to them overall? I don't mean the citizens of Colorado, but the governor, the district attorney and the police?

PAUGH: Well, of course not. And I think the statement was just made; he is a political machine, and that's just about all he's good for.

What he didn't say during that little fiasco on TV was that there was an open letter sitting on his desk at that very moment, which said: We want to come. Let us come. Let us continue to work in any capacity that we can. Help us, give us more investigators, not another team of sharp-minded prosecutors.

And, of course, he chose not to do that because that wasn't in, politically, in his best interest.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pam, there has been some -- there have been statements in the media -- and I want you to correct them if they are wrong -- that there's been no cooperation from John and Patsy. Have they cooperated with the investigation? If so, how?

PAUGH: Well, they have cooperated fully since the morning of the 26th of December, 1996. There are even some illegal cooperative issues that went on, such as the police interviewing Burke without the knowledge of his parents, without the permission of his parents, without the presence of an attorney to protect his rights as a minor. But we have continued to cooperate.

Only when it was made clear that they were going to continue going down a one-road path, not completely investigating any other possible suspects, including all of us, and that they were going to continue to leak false information that they knew would breed and spawn innuendo and speculation, only then did we decide this is not just, this is not in the pursuit of the killer of JonBenet Ramsey. And at that point, you have no other choice but to take your attorney's advice and sit on the sidelines.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Next Monday, John and Patsy Ramsey will be taking your questions live on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE." That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, 6:00 p.m. Pacific.

And join us tomorrow, as we continue our look at "The Death of Innocence." Our guest will be the Ramsey's attorney, Lin Wood. Join us then, for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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