Can new procedures tell us who killed the child pageant queen? Were there multiple murderers?
According to NBC News, “new DNA testing is planned in the unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.”
The news was first reported by NBC affiliate KUSA in Denver, Colorado, and by the Boulder Daily Camera. The two news outlets did a joint investigation in October which pointed to a variety of potential flaws in the interpretation of the DNA evidence in the case.
Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett confirmed in a statement to NBC News Wednesday that his office had met with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which he said will be conducting “some further testing of the DNA evidence in the Ramsey case, as well as other cold case homicides and pending investigations,” in a new lab with new testing procedures.
There is now doubt as to the conclusions reached by former Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy in her 2008 letter clearing the family. Specifically:
Lacy’s letter of exoneration was based on evidence that showed an unknown male’s DNA on JonBenet’s underwear and long johns, supporting the intruder theory, and therefore eliminating the Ramseys as suspects, she said.
But the DNA evidence that she reviewed, which was obtained exclusively by KUSA and the Boulder Daily Camera along with reports from the private lab in Virginia that did the testing, did not support her conclusion, according to forensic experts who examined the material for the news outlets.
Lacy’s letter stated: “The match of male DNA on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of the murder makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items.
Despite substantial efforts over the years to identify the source of this DNA, there is no innocent explanation for its incriminating presence at three sites on these two different items of clothing that JonBenet was wearing at the time of her murder.”
Kevin Vaughan, investigative reporter for KUSA, disagrees with Lacy. First, the team of experts he has worked with in the investigation believe there may be an explanation for the DNA on the underwear and long johns, and they also can’t rule out the possibility that the DNA sample comes from more than one person.
“They weren’t certain at all that this male DNA sample that was part of this mixture was even a profile of an individual person. It likely could have been a mixture of multiple people’s DNA,” Vaughan told NBC News Wednesday. “They asserted basically that based on the actual testing, there was no way to know for sure that this DNA Got there during the killing, belonged to the killer, or anything like that.”
This is a fascinating development for a number of reasons. Dr. Michael Tracey, who has studied the case deeply and who was instrumental in the surrender of one-time suspect John Mark Karr, has written extensively on the case for S&R. In my own study of the case (I have no access to the evidence beyond what has been made public) and in conversations with Dr. Tracey (who has had much greater access to investigators), a nagging question has presented itself: is Karr guilty, after all?
If you recall (this is all detailed in the Tracey series linked above), Karr approached Tracey as a result of his public commentary on media coverage of the case and in a string of exceptionally disturbing emails confessed that he was the killer. He was eventually persuaded to turn himself in, and was subsequently released when investigators couldn’t tie him to the murder with any physical evidence.
If you read the accounts of those exchanges between Tracey and Karr, it’s more than clear how profoundly dangerous Karr was/is, and it also seems evident that he a) desires notoriety, but b) didn’t want to go to jail.
The data didn’t match, so he’s not the culprit, right? Not so fast. What do we make of the fact that his knowledge of the events and the crime scene were so accurate? More to the point, how do we explain the fact that he knew things the police never released to the public?
a) He was there.
b) He knows the person who was.
c) He was there with someone else.
I have wrestled with this for some time and obviously I have nothing more than questions.
But if DNA experts are now suggesting that there were potentially multiple men there, you can see why I’m so interested.
Even better, if the capabilities of DNA research have advanced to the degree where we can make distinctions that weren’t possible at the time of the killing, then perhaps we can finally develop tangible evidence that will help us identify the killer.
Many people stick to the idea that a member of the family was responsible, with many of the fingers pointing at JonBenet’s brother Burke. As noted any number of times, there is zero evidence that any member of the family had anything to do with the girl’s murder.
But if I’m wrong and they’re right, it would be nice to finally put it to bed conclusively.