JonBenet Ramsey Case Takes Another Twist

JonBenet Ramsey didn't make many headlines in the first hours after her small, lifeless body was found in the basement her Boulder home just after Christmas 1996.

Soon, however, photos of the blond 6-year-old wearing beauty pageant makeup and costumes were splashed around the world. Details of a flawed investigation came to light. Then-District Attorney Alex Hunter said JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy, were under an "umbrella of suspicion."

Nearly 12 chaotic years later, prosecutors announced Wednesday that new DNA tests pointed to an unknown third party as the killer and cleared JonBenet's parents and her brother Burke.

It was a vindication for the family, but Patsy had not lived long enough to see it. She died of ovarian cancer in 2006.

"It has been too many years for this family to have suffered the injustice of being falsely accused of a crime they did not commit," said L. Lin Wood, John Ramsey's lawyer.

New technology was used to analyze the scant DNA left behind when someone grasped JonBenet's long johns. Prosecutors said that evidence matched the DNA earlier found in JonBenet's underwear, convincing them the genetic material must be that of the killer.

Legal experts say it's a significant step toward finally identifying a suspect, with one big hitch -- the DNA has yet to be matched to anyone in the national database of convicted criminals known as CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System.

"This moves us very close but we need a match," said Denver attorney Larry Pozner, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"We now know the DNA of who we're looking for. We need that person to be in a database. We need him to have committed a crime, have their DNA taken or we need them to commit a crime in the future," he said.

John Ramsey told ABC, "I am grateful for the real professionals in the Colorado law enforcement community who continue to work quietly but effectively to find the killer of our daughter. I believe in my heart that someday we will."

He told KUSA-TV, "When we get a DNA match, I think we'll have 80 percent of the case solved."

Even before Wednesday's surprise announcement, the case had been through more bizarre twists than a mystery novel.

It was on Dec. 26, 1996, that John Ramsey reported he found JonBenet's body. Authorities said she had been strangled, had a fractured skull and may have been sexually assaulted.

Patsy Ramsey had said about eight hours earlier she had found a ransom note demanding $118,000 for the girl's safe return.

At a press conference two months later, Hunter warned the unknown killer: "The list of suspects narrows. Soon there will be no one on the list but you."

But no arrest came and the investigation seemed to spin into disarray.

The lead police investigator resigned, accusing Hunter of mishandling the case and trying to protect the Ramseys. Then a homicide investigator resigned, insisting that there was credible evidence of an intruder and that the Ramseys were innocent.

A grand jury was convened in 1998 but adjourned a year later without issuing any indictments.

Hunter decided not to run again and left office in 2001. He later admitted mistakes were made.

Mary Lacy was elected to replace Hunter, and in 2002 her office took over the investigation from the police, promising to take a fresh look.

In 2003 the Ramseys got a major boost when a federal judge handling a defamation lawsuit involving the couple said the evidence was more consistent with the theory that an intruder killed JonBenet. Lacy said she agreed.

Three years later, only months after Patsy Ramsey died, the case seemed to veer into absurdity when John Mark Karr, an American teacher in Thailand, offered a bizarre confession to the slaying.

He was whisked from to Colorado but was released after prosecutors concluded he couldn't have killed her, and once again there was no prime suspect.

Now investigators have DNA, if not a name.

"I think it's simply a matter now of waiting for that day when they get a hit on the DNA and the person who brutally murdered this child is brought to justice," Wood said.