The current prosecutor in the JonBenét Ramsey murder case tells PEOPLE that as the 20th anniversary of her death approaches, he has not wavered from his belief that his predecessor was wrong to publicly clear from suspicion parents John and Patsy Ramsey as well as brother Burke.
“John, Burke, the Ramsey family are totally covered by the presumption of innocence and are entitled to that,” Boulder, Colorado, District Attorney Stan Garnett tells PEOPLE. “If we ever change our opinion about that with regard to the Ramseys or anyone else, we will file charges and say what we have to say about the case in open court.”
But “to issue an exoneration is, I think, misleading,” he says.
(As the anniversary approaches, People Magazine Investigates takes a fresh look at the infamous cold case in an episode entitled “JonBenét: The Untold Truth,” which airs Monday night at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.)
As he has stated previously, Garnett says then Boulder DA Mary Lacy jumped the gun on July 9, 2008, when, on the basis of DNA analysis from the crime scene, she issued a letter to John Ramsey stating “we do not consider your immediate family including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son Burke to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime.”
The 6-year-old JonBenét’s body was found December 26, 1996, in the basement of the Ramsey family’s Boulder home, beaten and strangled with a garrote tied around her neck and duct tape covering her mouth. An investigation that has considered more than 140 suspects including family members has failed to bring criminal charges.
Garnett says he has “a lot of respect” for Lacy, the prior DA. But he adds, “I didn’t feel the exoneration was warranted based on the state of the evidence and the complexity of the case. And I also thought it was a very unusual thing to do in a case where there had never been any charges filed.”
“When any district attorney goes around and starts issuing exonerations based on a particular piece of evidence, that can be very misleading to the public about the nature of the case,” he says.
Recalling the infamously “compromised” crime scene that has created a challenge for all subsequent investigators, Garnett says, “The state of the evidence is not one where you could really say anything definitively.”
A two-part CBS series broadcast in September featured a panel of experts who advanced the theory that JonBenét’s older Burke, then aged 9 was responsible, but that her death was an accident. Ramsey family attorney L. Lin Wood responded by filing a $150 million libel lawsuit against Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist quoted on the series who repeated his accusation against Burke on a Detroit radio show. Wood has promised a libel suit as well against CBS, which issued a statement standing by its broadcast.
Spitz has since moved to dismiss the suit against him, stating that his comments amount to opinion covered by the First Amendment.
Lacy’s statement exonerating family members was based upon application of a technology called “touch DNA,” where forensic scientists “scrape” a surface to recover genetic traces that are not visible. Samples of DNA had been drawn from JonBenét’s fingernails, her underwear, the waistband of her leggings, her wrist bindings and the garrote, which had been made using a cord and the broken handle of one of Patsy Ramsey’s paintbrushes.
At the time, Lacy revealed “an unknown male profile previously identified from the inside crotch area of the underwear matched the DNA recovered from the long johns” that JonBenét wore over her underwear the night she was murdered.
Wood, the family’s attorney, tells PEOPLE the DNA match is the clue to the actual killer — and it’s not Burke or John Ramsey. Pasty Ramsey died in 2006.
Garnett says his office continues to seek out advanced DNA technology hoping for a breakthrough.
“I don’t anticipate that it’s going to lead to any dramatic developments in the case,” he says, “but obviously we would love to solve it.”