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Burden of Proof

'The Death of Innocence': The Ramseys Speak Out

Aired March 28, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATSY RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY'S MOTHER: If anyone knows anything, please, please help us.

FRANK HARRINGTON, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER: The heart refuses to accept the death of one so young, who is suddenly taken from us by cruelty and malice by some unworthy person or persons.

P. RAMSEY: There is a killer on the loose. I don't know who it is. I don't know if it's a he or a she. But if I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep your babies close to you. There's someone out there.

LESLIE DURGIN, BOULDER MAYOR: There was no visible sign of forced entry. The body was found in a place where people are saying someone had to know the house. So there isn't a crazed killer on the loose wandering the streets of Boulder.

ALEX HUNTER, BOULDER COUNTRY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: You have stripped us of any mercy that we might have had in the beginning of this investigation. We will see that justice is served in this case and that you pay.

MARK BECKNER, BOULDER POLICE: We have an umbrella of suspicion and people have come and gone under that umbrella. They do remain under an umbrella of suspicion, but we're not ready to name any suspects.

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY'S FATHER: To those of you who may want to ask, let me address very directly, I did not kill my daughter, JonBenet.

HUNTER: The Boulder grand jury has completed its work and will not return. No charges have been filed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: The Ramseys are speaking out. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, "The Death of Innocence."

Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. I'm in Los Angeles today.

Last night, John and Patsy Ramsey talked to CNN's Larry King about the death of their young daughter, JonBenet, and the investigation that has followed.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: In conjunction with the publication of their new book, the Ramseys have been speaking out, maintaining their innocence and insisting the hunt for JonBenet's murderer continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J. RAMSEY: What we need to do is get down to the objective here. The objective is to find the killer. I can say a lot of things about what the police didn't do. They can say a lot of things about what we didn't do. But let's put that aside. Let's put politics aside. Let's put egos aside. There is a dangerous killer loose, we believe. This killer, if he's still alive, will kill again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: Joining us today in Denver is criminal defense attorney David Sanderson, who is running to replace Alex Hunter as the Boulder County district attorney.

VAN SUSTEREN: And here in Washington, Melissa Capps (ph), former federal prosecutor Marty Rogers, and Joanna Mendez (ph). And in the back row, Jessica Bradley (ph) and Rosemary Lahasky (ph).

David, first to you. If you do get elected to replace Alex Hunter as a district attorney, what are you going to do about this case?

DAVE SANDERSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hello and thank you for having me. I am going to look at the evidence that's been compiled to date with new eyes, new vision, new blood and new energy. Alex Hunter himself, when he formally announced he was not going to run again, about a week ago used those phrases. And I'm going to come into that office in November, and I'm going to look at what the police have compiled to date with fresh perspective, and I'm going to defer to the professionals here. And the professionals here are Mark Beckner and his police officers at the Boulder Police Department.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you suggesting that Alex Hunter has not done his job, or are you simply saying that looking at the evidence, you might have, as another lawyer would look at evidence, a different view of it?

SANDERSON: Probably a little bit of both. Alex Hunter has been in that office. His people have been running that office since Richard Nixon was president. They have been doing the same thing for a long time, and then all of a sudden, the JonBenet Ramsey case comes along.

I think you need to get somebody in there who's used to looking at tough cases, different kinds of cases, and applying a new energy and a new vision to what's already out there, making some tough decisions. Not every case is winnable, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't go forward and perhaps put the case in front of a jury and let the jury decide. COSSACK: Dave, go forward with what? You know, you say that you're going to put it in the hands of the professionals. It seems now that the police have been involved in this case all the same -- for the same amount of time that the district attorney's office. Both entities went before the grand jury for a long period of time and couldn't convince the grand jury that there was enough evidence to indict the Ramseys. I mean, why are you suggesting or are you suggesting that there's some other evidence out there that you could get an indictment with?

SANDERSON: I know this investigation is ongoing. There is a letter to the editor of the "Boulder Daily Camera," one of the major local newspapers in Boulder County from Mark Beckner, the chief of police, responding to an editorial that appeared about a week ago in "The Daily Camera" criticizing the police for not pursuing various leads. And it's a rather lengthy letter but the point of it is it's -- Chief Beckner is saying, "Look, this investigation is ongoing. We have evidence that we don't want to talk about, and we're not going to talk about it until we have somebody that we can prosecute for this crime."

VAN SUSTEREN: Dave, your governor of your state has focused -- and the Ramseys have made what I would characterize as rather over- the-line statements when an ongoing investigation. But if you become the prosecutor, are you going to go look at other suspects as the Ramseys have asked in their new book and repeated to Larry King last night? Is that the focus, or are you going to focus on the Ramseys?

SANDERSON: I'm not ruling anything out, but I'll remind viewers who might have tuned in to Larry King's show that Patsy Ramsey herself suggested, "Hey, let's start anew. Let's go back and begin canvassing the neighborhood. Let's start over again." I think that's what I would be inclined to do.

I think Governor Owens' comments, because he does represent the people of the state of Colorado, I think his comments, in my experience, my understanding, represent the views of most of the people in Colorado.

VAN SUSTEREN: But let me jump on you about that, Dave. He was not in the grand jury. He has not gone through the evidence. He doesn't have a real grasp on what the facts are. He's acting like a politician. Do you support that kind of public statement from a governor about a case when he has no firsthand knowledge?

COSSACK: And what does that do about trying to get somebody a fair trial if there is an indictment in Colorado?

SANDERSON: Well, certainly, Governor Owens was not party to the grand jury and was not a participant...

VAN SUSTEREN: Doesn't that immediately disqualify him as a chief executive officer of the state of Colorado for making a statement?

SANDERSON: Well, I think he speaks on behalf of the view that's held by a majority of the people in the state of Colorado. They have watched this case. Frankly, I think they're tending to get sick of the case, and they have their own views. And I think he was merely echoing that. I don't know if he was speaking as a chief executive officer so much as he was speaking from his heart perhaps.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I will go out on a limb and say perhaps even poisoning the already existing views when everyone's entitled to a fair trial. But Dave Sanderson...

COSSACK: Clearly not real responsible, Greta. Wouldn't you agree?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm with you on that one, Roger. We're going to take a break.

Dave Sanderson, thanks a lot for joining us today. And up next, are there still clues and evidence out there that could lead authorities to JonBenet's killer? Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

John and Patsy Ramsey's book, "The Death of Innocence" is reportedly not selling well in Boulder, Colorado where their 6-year- old daughter JonBenet was murdered in 1996.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: 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. And 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.

VAN SUSTEREN: When they spoke to Larry King last night, the parents of JonBenet Ramsey described their daughter's killer as a mad man and still on the loose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J. RAMSEY: There are several key pieces of evidence that we think will lead us to the killer. Male Pedophile. We think a stun gun was involved so this person either had a stun gun or had access to one. The number 118 had significance to this person. SBTC meant something to this killer. That was how the ransom note was signed. And this person was in Boulder, Colorado on December 25th. We're not looking for a needle in a haystack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us now in Denver, April Zesbaugh of KOA radio and former federal prosecutor Larry Mertex.

Marty, let me go first to you. We asked Dave Sanderson about the governor's statements. As a prosecutor, if those statements are made by a governor, what does that do to the prosecution's case if anything?

MARTY ROGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it doesn't necessarily do anything to the prosecution's case, but I do think that it would prejudice -- I mean, the governor was obviously saying that he believed the Ramseys killed their child, and he was suggesting to the potential jury pool, if there ever was an indictment, that he agrees that they did it.

I really thought it was an inappropriate, entirely inappropriate thing for him to do. It is not a political football, the death of this child, and he should not have said anything about the grand jury's activities, particularly since he had no firsthand knowledge of it.

COSSACK: April, let's talk about some of the evidence that the Ramseys talked about, in particular, the stun gun and the number 118. What significance does the number 118 mean if you know?

APRIL ZESBAUGH, KOA REPORTER: As far as 118, I think they're referring to the amount of ransom money that was listed in the ransom note, $118,000, which also corresponded to the bonus, the Christmas bonus that John Ramsey got that year in 1996. So they're wondering why does 118 play -- and John Ramsey talking about that last night on "LARRY KING LIVE."

And also mentioning that the man -- that they believe this is a man because of the DNA, and also a pedophile. I would beg to differ. We don't know that this person is a pedophile, since no semen was found. Even the Ramseys's own pediatrician, JonBenet's doctor, came out and said there's no evidence that this little girl was sexually assaulted. So we can't confirm that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, I'm going to ask you about the polygraph law in the state of Colorado, but first, I'm going to show the viewers what the Ramseys had to say about polygraph last night on "LARRY KING."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J. RAMSEY: We were asked -- Had we been asked to take a lie detector test, we said no. We were asked would we. We said certainly, we would. We would expect it to be fair, and we would expect the results to be public.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": And then you would take -- Well, by fair, what's the determination of that, Patsy?

P. RAMSEY: Well, I think it has to be someone of...

KING: National repute?

P. RAMSEY: National repute.

KING: FBI man?

P. RAMSEY: Independent, you know, professional polygrapher. J. RAMSEY: We've been told that this is a dangerous thing to take a lie detector test, because they're subjective science; they're not allowed in court as evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, what's the law in Colorado about the use of lie detectors or polygraphs? And also, is that something that you would advise the Ramseys to do at this point? They're still under that umbrella of suspicion.

LARRY MERTES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: And I guess they'll continue to be forever. Two things. First of all, in Colorado like everywhere else, Greta, polygraphs aren't admissible in court. But what's interesting is there's been a pretty dramatic shift in the use of polygraphs in other areas of the law, and I think we may see some more changes in the future.

For instance, in Colorado, it's considered an appropriate part of sex offender specific treatment that offenders undergo polygraph examinations as part of their probation period. And that's been enforced by the judges and that's something that everybody accused of a sex crime now has to go through in Colorado.

And I think the other thing that's happened is that polygraphs have become more sophisticated. The primary example is a new device called the Axiton (ph), which is a computer-generated, I guess fail safe if you will, if there's any such thing for a polygraph, that allows the polygrapher to go into some of the variables and try to take out some of the deceptions that they find. So it's an interesting area.

One of the things I wanted to point out to you, though, is as a criminal defense lawyer now, I can tell you that I would never let a client take a polygraph unless I pre-tested them. In other words, I went to my own polygraph examiner and I familiarized my clients with how the polygraph worked and what they should expect. And the Ramseys have some pretty good lawyers, and so I expect that they've already had some pre-testing polygraph and they think they can pass it or they wouldn't be making the offer at this point in time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Or maybe they know they can pass it.

ROGERS: Or has he ever done it where he's had his private polygapher or polygraphist give the test, their client passes; you then show up at the U.S. attorney's office for the FBI polygrapher to do it and they fail?

VAN SUSTEREN: Does that happen, Marty?

ROGERS: Happens to me. Happened to me before.

COSSACK: April, what about this allegation that the police made up their mind early on, that the only ones that could have done this crime were the Ramseys and didn't really follow up on other evidence that was available? ZESBAUGH: I think a lot of folks would agree with that, that they evidence was tainted from early on because of missteps in that house, having one investigator, Linda Arndt, on the scene for a couple of hours, while you had nine or ten people wandering around the house and tainting what they didn't realize was a crime scene, treating it as a kidnapping when in essence, it was a murder. They should have probably treated it as a homicide from the very beginning.

I think John and Patsy Ramsey last night on "LARRY KING" on CNN were very, very believable in that. I think they're going to get a lot of sympathy from the public if they continue to slam the Boulder Police Department because many folks believe that.

VAN SUSTEREN: April, the new book out by the Ramseys, how's it selling in the state of Colorado, if you know?

ZESBAUGH: Not very well. We did some interviews the very first week that it was released, and a guy in Boulder, the Boulder bookstore, had ordered 200 copies and sold ten in the first weekend. He was hoping to sell about 150 in that opening weekend. So he was very disappointed and said that he thinks it's dropping off because -- first of all, because the Ramseys are still considered suspects under that umbrella of suspicion. People don't want to hear their story until they're cleared. And also because there have been so many Ramseys books out. Steve Thomas, a lead investigator for the Boulder Police Department coming out with his own version next month. So people are tired of it. They're sick of it.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Earlier this month, the Ramseys settled a $25 million lawsuit with the "Star" tabloid. Their lawyers say he's filing another suit next week. What's the next legal step for the Ramseys? Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Before he represented the Ramseys, Atlanta attorney Lin Wood had another well-known client with complaints about the media. Who was it?

A: Accused and then exonerated Olympic Park bombing suspect Richard Jewell.

(END Q&A)

COSSACK: The Ramseys' attorney, Lin Wood, says he plans to file a suit next week against the "Globe" tabloid for a November 1998 story that called young Burk Ramsey the murderer of his sister. Wood also says he may file suit against "The New York Post" and Time Warner for reprinting stories with the same allegations. Time Warner, of course, is the parent company of CNN.

Larry, that to me is a very aggressive and affirmative statement on behalf of the Ramseys because what they're saying is, "We're prepared to file another lawsuit. You want to take our depositions? Come on, take our depositions. We have nothing to hide." MERTES: Well, Lin Wood has a national reputation. And you know, the interesting thing is the tabloids often, you know, make their bread publishing speculation as opposed to facts. And so when you do that, when you make your bread that way, you take those risks.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what? Let me go to Marty on this. I don't even know if there's even a risk in this lawsuit when you accuse a child of a crime, which is libel, per se, when you falsely accuse someone of a crime, and you've got the police has specifically come out and cleared this young boy. This one's easy.

ROGERS: This one's pretty easy. He's not a public figure like other -- you know, which is a standard that they use in these sort of defamation lawsuit. No, I think it's a pretty good case for the Ramseys, I guess, for their son, because he was completely cleared. And the tabloid was way off base saying that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Roger, if I were -- I think the Globe may be opening their wallets relatively quickly on this one.

COSSACK: Well, no. And I'm not suggesting that they don't have a good lawsuit, but what I'm suggesting is that what it does is open them up to these kinds of in-depth depositions. And as you always point out, you know, these civil depositions, you can ask whatever you want.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. And, of course, you know, I assume it, but I don't know that they were deposed on the other libel suit that they filed on behalf of their son. But apparently, you know, it's their belief is they have an obligation to pursue a case on behalf of their son, who...

COSSACK: But don't you think it's also sort of a signal of saying, "You know, look. Come on and ask us anything you want. We're not afraid."

VAN SUSTEREN: Perhaps. But, you know, they've certainly at least publicly now they're saying, "Come ask us." Last night on "LARRY KING," they said, you know, "We're willing to talk about this."

April, you're out there. What's the pulse in the community in terms of the public sentiment about the Ramseys, having written this book, this case, the investigation, et cetera?

ZESBAUGH: A little bit weary. As I said earlier, I think they're getting tired of it. Until there's new information or a confession or something that feels like a rekindling of the investigation so that we can find the killer in this case, otherwise folks are getting a little bit sort of shell shocked by the whole thing and want to move on. Like all of us, I think in the media as well, hoping for that additional kernel of information that's going to bring us to a resolution in this case.

COSSACK: April, is this case, you know, for all intents and purposes, over? And is this just, you know, the Ramseys talking about it and Sanderson is running for office talking about? But is anything ever going to be done?

ZESBAUGH: We all hope so. I think a year ago or after the grand jury came back with no indictment, no charges, a lot of us were feeling a loss of hope, that this would never be resolved. I guess I'm feeling a sense of hope after seeing this book released by the Ramseys, after waiting for Steve Thomas' book to come out in April, the movies that we've seen on TV about the Ramseys case.

I think there is still an interest there and we all want to get to the bottom of it so badly that, hopefully, this new blood in the D.A.'s office in Boulder will help. Alex Hunter realizing perhaps he's not the right man to get it done anymore. Maybe next January when he retires, there will be something new in this case, fresh eyes. And Mark Beckner is like a dog with a bone there in the Boulder Police Department. He wants to find the killer. So we can only hope and pray.

VAN SUSTEREN: Larry, in the few seconds we have left, do you have that sense of hope that this will be resolved? I know it's sort of an impossible question.

MERTES: I think they need new blood in the D.A. office. I think they need a fresh start. They need new eyes. I don't think they need people that have been there. So I'm looking forward to some change in the office. I think a better working relationship with the Boulder Police Department is critical. I don't think we ought to have teams of lawyers for the police and teams of lawyers for the prosecutors. There ought to be one big happy family and maybe something will get done.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for joining us.

Tonight on CNN, Larry King continues his live interview of John and Patsy Ramsey. I'll be there, too, to join in on the conversation. And that's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern 6:00 p.m. Pacific.

COSSACK: And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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