Craig's Court: Tabloid Time -- The Shapiro Factor

Jan 31, 2004

I spent a lot of time observing and commenting on how the justice system handled the horrific Christmas 1996 death of JonBenet Ramsey. Few characters in that melodrama were more memorable to me than Jeff Shapiro. This young kid was hired by a tabloid, The Globe, to infiltrate the city of Boulder, Colo., and find juicy stories to help sell more magazines at checkout lines throughout the country.

First, he moved in next to JonBenet's brother John Andrew Ramsey, a University of Colorado student. Next, by pretending to be Episcopalian, he got kind of cozy with JonBenet's parents at their Boulder church.

Nothing, however, compared to the tragic comedy of Shapiro's relationship with Boulder DA Alex Hunter. The addled veteran prosecutor became so unhinged by the pressure of the world watching that he sought solace in extensive secret soul-searching meetings with this tabloid junior reporter.

On Feb. 29, 1999, in the Boulder Weekly, JonBenet observer/reporter Frank Coffman summed it up well: "Jeff Shapiro seemed to think that the case revolved around him, and for a brief time, it almost did. Incredibly, he managed to insinuate himself everywhere and gain the confidence of major figures in the case. He achieved enviable access, but he couldn't keep anyone's trust for long."

Along the way, Shapiro went from Ramsey accuser to Ramsey defender. Next, he flipped on the Globe, suddenly deciding that his prior work was immoral and that his employer was depraved. The best book and movie on the JonBenet mystery is Lawrence Schiller and Charlie Brennan's "Perfect Murder Perfect Town" and it perfectly captures Shapiro's role in the JonBenet story.

Buy the book (I am mentioned on page 207). Buy two copies of the movie (I got to play myself.) Jeff Shapiro is one of the main characters and well depicted by Brennan (now covering the Kobe Bryant case for the Rocky Mountain News) and Schiller. One reviewer of "Perfect Murder Perfect Town" called Shapiro a deranged reporter who stalked the police.

After making a couple stabs at other careers (law student, mainstream journalist), Jeff Shapiro is apparently back to stalking the major figures in Colorado's latest crime drama. I have seen him hanging around the Eagle courthouse and we eye each other warily. Now I know why he is here. Jeff Shapiro is about to release a book containing information apparently obtained from Eagle County cops and the alleged victim.

It seems that Shapiro doesn't like me because I sometimes consult with his new nemesis, American Media Corporation, doing business as the Globe and its friendly competitor, the Enquirer. These tabloids sometimes hire me to provide legal consultation but I always take the precaution of insisting on a right of review before publication of any of my quotations to make sure I am not commenting on Martians or two-headed animals.

Shapiro apparently hates Hal Haddon because he was the attorney for the Ramseys and unlike the Boulder DA or cop shop, that defense team could not be infiltrated.

Hal Haddon and his latest client, Kobe Bryant, have to be worried about what is in Shapiro's book. Apparently, some of the 75-minute conversation Kobe had with the Eagle cops is going to be in the book. We already know that part of that conversation involves Bryant saying some highly embarrassing and very personal things. Some of what Bryant said could also be incriminating, especially if presented out of context.

The book is going to be released on Monday, Feb. 2, the same day that Bryant's motion to suppress those 75 minutes of statements is going to be heard. That portion of those proceedings dealing with what Bryant actually said is going to be held in private, according to a ruling just issued by Judge Ruckreigle.

In other words, while the press and public is excluded from the courtroom, Shapiro will be right there handing out (or selling) his self-published book. What do you think the hot story is going to be that night? This all spells bad news for Kobe Bryant.

Kobe's had nothing but bad news of late. A few weeks ago, Bryant became the celebrity defendant who really does have a dislocated shoulder. The other day, there was a published report that Bryant made sexual advances on a room service woman last year in a Portland hotel. Right after that story of further infidelity was published, Bryant came up with a new injury suffered at home; a nasty deep cut to his finger.

As for that tabloid-like Portland hotel story, it cuts several ways. In the court of public opinion, it is probably a wash. Kobe is further exposed as a cad, but he has already admitted adultery.

While this woman insists that Bryant was persistent, he did take no for an answer. In a court of law, this Portland situation probably would not even be admissible if offered by the prosecution. If artfully offered by the defense, it would probably help create reasonable doubt on the critical issues of consent and force.

There is one court where this latest Portland revelation has to hurt Bryant. That is within the uncomfortable confines of his home court. Mrs. Bryant cannot be happy about this. Something tells me that Jeff Shapiro's book will further hurt the Bryant home situation (alert the jewelry stores). As a child prodigy and perennial All-star, Bryant has never felt the pain of being cut from a basketball team, but this week, the cuts just keep on coming. Kobe Bryant is going to be playing and living hurt for quite a while.

Craig Silverman is a legal analyst for 7NEWS. He will be contributing his thoughts on the Kobe Bryant case in the months to come. He works for the downtown Denver law firm of Silverman and Olivas, P.C., which you can contact through their Web site or by calling (303) 595-0529. You can read Craig's bio here.

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