In a long-overdue move, Boulder prosecutors have officially cleared the family of JonBenet Ramsey in the girl’s December 26, 1996 murder. I say “long-overdue” because for those of us who’ve paid attention to the evidence it’s been clear for years now – painfully, maddeningly clear – that the family was innocent.
I emphasize “evidence” in that sentence for a reason. There are facts in this case, and pretty much without exception those who are convinced of the family’s guilt are people who are relying not on evidence, but on media reports that run the gamut from “inaccurate” to “creative writing.” Not all of these people – and I may well be talking about you, I know – are morons. Many are, to be sure, but many more are reasonably intelligent folks who’ve been victimized by the worst case of journalistic malpractice in our nation’s recent history. In a number of ways the “press” failed more miserably with the Ramsey case than it did even with its addled accessory-before-the-fact act in the run-up to the Iraq War.
If you recall, early coverage of the case presented us with all sorts of reasons to believe that the Ramseys – John, Patsy and Burke – had to be involved. There were no footprints in the snow. There was no way an intruder could have gained access to the house. The family was behaving bizarrely. The ransom note! And on, and on, and on…
Trouble was, most, if not all, of this “evidence” was fiction. There was barely any snow on the ground, for example – you could have trotted a rhino through the yard without leaving tracks in the snow. Also, it’s now been demonstrated that the basement window, which was unlocked, was big enough that not only could an intruder have gotten in, a decent-sized middle-aged man could have done it easily. And on, and on, and on.
A 1998 documentary produced by David Mills and University of Colorado media studies professor Michael Tracey dissect the media coverage (as well as the Boulder PD’s strategy of leaking disinformation to the press) in minute detail, and the results were staggering. While this doc doesn’t address who the killer was or might have been (a topic covered in subsequent investigations by the same team), it’s nearly impossible, after watching it and considering the evidence – there’s that word again – to believe the family had anything to do with it.
The intelligent viewer does come away wanting to strangle every reporter in America, however.
Case in Point: The Denver Post Panders to the Truthers
Which brings us to yesterday’s Post column by David Harsanyi. I’ll confess up front that I have no idea how people like this get jobs, especially positions as coveted as newspaper columnist. Harsanyi has apparently been convinced of the Ramsey’s guilt for some time, and he’s not about to let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a strongly held opinion.
While the process is a bit tedious, Harsanyi’s “column” is something that needs to be taken point by point. So let’s have a look.
Despite what you may have heard, Patsy and John Ramsey have not been “cleared” of wrongdoing in any genuine sense. They were simply handed a legal pass by a staunch ally who has once again shortchanged the genuine victim in the case: JonBenÃ©t.
Let me begin by presenting you with a scenario. Say you’re on the jury for a murder trial. The prosecution presents a case that’s flimsy and circumstantial at best. No witnesses, no confessions, no material evidence, no motive, nothing. There are items found at the scene that were used in the crime. A rigorous investigation is unable to connect any of these items to any of the defendants.
Then the defense presents evidence showing that the victim had foreign DNA on two separate articles of clothing. The DNA matches. Further, they’ve done DNA tests on everybody in the family, on friends, on basically everybody they can think of who might have had access to the victim. The DNA doesn’t belong to any known person.
So now you’re deliberating. In essence, there is no evidence linking the accused to the crime and significant evidence pointing to another, as-yet-unidentified party.
How do you vote?
David Harsanyi, who’d have been right at home on the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird, not only votes to convict, he brings a length of rope into the jury box with him so the hanging can get under way as soon as possible.
This is roughly the situation with the Ramsey case. When a “journalist” pretends otherwise and uses rhetorical misdirection to make the argument not about the evidence, but about a “staunch ally,” that person has violated every meaningful article of ethics in his profession. Either that or he’s too dumb to be allowed outdoors off-leash.
Mary Lacy, the district attorney of Boulder, has made it her mission to exonerate the Ramseys since her first day on the job. She has disregarded facts and played the media and the public for a bunch of suckers along the way. She is trying to do it again.
This is what’s known as a “lie.” Perhaps Lacy has been looking to exonerate the Ramseys, but if so, it’s only because the evidence clearly showed them to be innocent. And … isn’t clearing the innocent as important to a prosecutor’s job as convicting the guilty?
And why would an actual journalist be so unconcerned by the old adage that it’s better for ten guilty men to walk free than for one innocent one to be imprisoned?
Lacy, as anyone who has followed this case knows, has little credibility to offer, much less any absolution to hand out â€” at least not until a killer is convicted.
Ummm, no David, “anyone who has followed this case” knows no such thing. On the contrary – those who have troubled themselves with the evidence are pretty convinced of the precise opposite.
Harsanyi’s misdirection here is what’s known as ad hominem – we have an unevidenced and personal indictment of Lacy’s character, and that can only mean that John Ramsey tapped that girlmeat before garotting her perky little ass, right?
The Ramseys, let’s not forget, brought suspicion upon themselves with bizarre behavior during the investigation of the horrific Christmas night 1996 murder of their daughter.
I wondered how long it would take this lie to make an appearance.
The “bizarre behavior” charge is a toxic cocktail of: Boulder PD malpractice – they decided immediately that the Ramsey’s were guilty (after turning the crime scene investigation into an episode of Reno 911) and then began leaking their frame to the press; media circus – if the case weren’t so tragic it would have been entertaining to watch every reporter in America trying to out-Geraldo the next; and, by the way, how exactly are you supposed to behave when your daughter getsÂ sexually molestedÂ and strangled to death in your own house while you sleep? Is there a class for that or an instructional video or something? Because if it happened to me, I imagine my behavior would be beyond bizarre.
But I expect that Harsanyi, who’s obviously watched a lot of crime dramas on TV, has seen enough trained actors reacting to tragedy that he’d behave perfectly rationally under those circumstances.
Now, according to Lacy, an outside laboratory has found “previously undiscovered genetic material” of a male in three places on JonBenÃ©t’s clothing. This leads investigators to believe that DNA could not have been left accidentally by an innocent party. It must have been an intruder.
Well, it wasn’t from somebody who they know. If the word “intruder” bothers you, what word would you use to describe an unknown and uninvited man in the house?
So, once again, the public is supposed to believe a murderer snuck into the house undetected, killed the girl undetected, wrote a ransom note and then snuck out undetected, never to be heard from again.
We know that access to the house wouldn’t have been difficult to obtain, especially when the family was out. We know the layout of the house, so the prospect of nabbing the girl and committing the crime is far less fantastic than the media has led us to believe. The note is dealt with in detail in the Mills/Tracey documentaries – short version, it’s hardly the smoking gun that the media would have you think. And getting out undetected would have been a piece of cake.
However, Harsanyi wants you to believe that, despite the evidence in the case, an intruder is a wild fantasy that’s far less plausible than … what? A man with no record of deviant behavior at all wakes up with a boner only his little girl can satisfy, hauls her to the basement, violates herÂ with a piece of broken wood and kills her, then goes back to bed. Or is it more plausible that Mommy helps? Participates in the threesome from Hell? Or that Mommy kills the girl for allegedly wetting the bed (and then, I guess, plants some of the random anonymous donor ejaculate she keeps around the house in case of emergency)?
I don’t know David Harsanyi. I don’t know if he has children. If he does, I don’t know what kind of parent he is. But I do know this: his sense for what is plausible scares me just a little.
At this point Harsanyi tries to get a little more analytical, bless his heart.
How does Lacy know the unidentified male is the one who actually killed JonBenÃ©t? How does Lacy know that this person’s hands weren’t on JonBenÃ©t’s clothes before or after the murder? How does she know that John Doe wasn’t assisting the family in a cover-up of the crime?
And if this nameless individual was indeed the murderer, how does Lacy know that a family member did not assist him in covering up the crime?
She doesn’t know.
How does she know that John and Patsy aren’t Martians? How does she know that the Trilateral Commission wasn’t involved? How does she know that JonBenet wasn’t of the direct line of Jesus and Mary Magdalene?!
Harsanyi has never heard of Occam’s Razor, apparently, but it asks us to first consider the most obvious explanations. If you knew nothing of the case before reading his article, you might conclude that the Ramseys were never investigated at all. He makes it sound as though the authorities never looked at them, never questioned them, never sought to connect them to the evidence of the case.
Look at the scenarios he imagines. Now pretend you’re back on the jury. What, exactly, is the motive for securing the services of an unknown third party in what would have to be a premediated ritual murder of some sort? I mean, it’s 3 am Christmas night – you can’t exactly pick up the phone and call The Wolf, you know?
In short, Harsanyi doesn’t think we can clear the Ramseys until we can rule out every cockamammy conspiracy he and the writing teams from Lost and The X-Files combined can dream up.
But Lacy, one of the most incompetent officials working in Colorado law enforcement, has taken us on this ride before. There is neither the space nor the need to discuss Lacy’s ham-fisted ineptitude here. She is, after all, an elected official, and Boulder voters get what they deserve.
I’m the last guy to get caught up defending the eptitude of Boulder’s officials – I mean, it was the ineptitude of the police and prosecutors back in the ’90s that caused all these problems to start with.
But Harsanyi saying Lacy is incompetent doesn’t make it so. I’d like a little evidence on this point, and specifically I’d evidence that shows her incapable of evaluating the guilt and innocence of people in the presence of dramatic DNA results.
I can’t help it. When you prove to me that you’re not exactly a rocket surgeon yourself, I have a hard time placing a lot of stock in your attacks on the intelligence of others.
We must, nonetheless, recall that this is the woman who two years ago conceded she had not a shred of credible evidence tying John Mark Karr to the death of JonBenÃ©t Ramsey. Yet, she still hauled this creepy child-sex fetishist back to United States from Thailand (a crime in itself, if you ask me) and let citizens foot the bill.
I’m not sure what he means by “credible evidence” in this case, but Karr had carried on a long correspondence with Dr. Tracey, and in the process had provided details of the crime scene that investigators felt made him a person of keen interest. There’s more to the Karr story as well – we’ll talk about this in a bit.
In any case, there is evidence surrounding Karr that is not widely known, and in light of that evidence it would have been unthinkable not to bring him in for questioning.
But, as is always prudent in this case, a healthy dose of skepticism about the Boulder police department, the DA and everyone involved was entirely justified â€” for the obvious reasons that no one wants to believe the unthinkable. No one wants to believe parents are capable of some dreadful act.
Of all the silly things that Harsanyi has to say in this editorial, this is the most patently ludicrous. Who are these people who believe it’s unthinkable? Who is this “no one” that wants to believe parents incapable of “some dreadful act”?
Thanks to “journalists” like Harsanyi, the opposite is closer to the truth, as evidenced by a poll showing that around 60% of Americans thought believed one or both parents were culpable. Seriously, what planet does this man live on?
We should also remember there are plenty of other crimes to be solved. Plenty of other children â€” most of whom aren’t involved in high-profile cases â€” are in need of justice.
Wow – finally Harsanyi says something coherent. The problem is that our press gets the smell of blood and only covers the hot cases. I haven’t reviewed Harsanyi’s back catalogue, but if I did, I wonder how many articles I’d find where he’s addressing missing child cases not involving people with names like Ramsey or Holloway?
But Lacy is in no position to offer apologies or to dictate how the public should view the Ramseys. Because in this case, there is still only one victim.
Well, only one child is dead.
But a man had his career destroyed. A woman died under a unwarranted blanket of suspicion. And thanks to the efforts of writers like David Harsanyi, millions of Americans are dumber than they would be otherwise. So I guess it depends on how you define “victim.”
Coming Soon: The Ramsey Case as Cultural Mirror
Michael Tracey, who has arguably followed this case with greater tenacity than anyone who isn’t an official investigator (and he’s perhaps bested a number of those who are) is working on a new book. The emerging project deals with three main threads. First, the media circus. Second, the case itself. And third, his relationship to it all.
Tracey is British and grew up, like so many around the world, dreaming of coming to America. He was enraptured by our sense of fairness, by our government and system of justice, and by the boundless possibility our nation represented for those looking to make something more of themselves than they could in the lands of their birth.
But as we all know, reality rarely reflects the vision. As he lived and worked here, he came to understand more about the dark underbelly of our culture, and when the Ramsey case exploded, not very far from his own home, he saw our system of justice compromised by a cynical, misguided trial-by-media mentality where a grieving family had been tried and convicted within a few hours of the crime’s commission. Over the years he’s thought a great deal about why this affected him so powerfully.
In a nutshell, the issue is this: not the Ramsey case per se, but rather what the Ramsey case says about America, its public, its politics and its media.
The core essay from which the book is evolving is complete, and we have reached an agreement with Dr. Tracey to serialize it here at Scholars & Rogues. We expect parts of it to appeal strongly to the crime buffs out there, but in our view it’s the deeper analysis of our culture and our media that make this project special.
Stay tuned – we’ll let you know more about the details as they become available. In the meantime, we ask our readers to think more about evidence, about the sources that inform and misinform their lives, about what they know versus what they think they know versus what they merely believe.
And we encourage you to keep reading truthers like David Harsanyi. Often we can learn as much from studying idiots as we can geniuses.