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New DNA test for JonBenet Ramsey cold case

This year, an investigative report said DNA evidence in the case conflicted with prosecutors' 2008 decision to clear the Ramsey family of suspicion.

By Doug G. Ware
New DNA test for JonBenet Ramsey cold case
The gravesite of JonBenet Ramsey is seen at St. James Episcopal Cemetery in Marietta, Ga. Wednesday, authorities in Boulder, Colo., announced that they are planning to use new DNA technology to retest key evidence in the 1996 cold case. Previous testing has not been able to conclusively link anyone to JonBenet's death. File Photo by John Dickerson/UPI | License Photo

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Investigators still haunted by the 20-year-old unsolved killing of JonBenet Ramsey now plan to use emerging and more sophisticated DNA technology to retest key evidence in the case, authorities said Wednesday.

Boulder's police department, district attorney's office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation announced jointly they have decided to take a fresh forensic look at the evidence left from the girl's abduction and death, which occurred exactly 20 years ago this month.

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The primary motivation for the new tests, officials said, are advances in forensic DNA examination that fit into the FBI's Combined DNA Index System -- a sophisticated database that contains telltale genetic code for more than 15 million known criminal offenders in the United States.

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"With the emergence of new DNA testing technology, the Boulder Police Department is working with the Colorado Bureau of Investigations to determine if this new technology could further this investigation," the Boulder Police Department said in a statement Wednesday.

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"Department officials will continue to reserve any additional comments until there is new information to announce."

"We did meet with CBI and the district attorney's office, and we had a general discussion about evidence in the Ramsey case, including new technology and DNA testing," Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa said Wednesday. "And we are going to take a look at the new technology, and see how they may help us further this investigation."

Wednesday's announcement follows two decades of puzzling evidence analysis, rigorous debate and controversy surrounding the death of the 6-year-old beauty pageant winner, whose body was found in the basement of her family's home the day after Christmas 1996. The high-profile case attracted worldwide attention for years due to the shocking nature of the crime and a series of unusual twists and turns related to the police investigation.

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Authorities' decision to retest evidence also follows an investigation by two Colorado news outlets this year of previous DNA analysis, which concluded that the forensic test results did not support then-Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy's 2008 decision to clear to the girl's parents, John and Patsy, and brother, Burke, of any suspicion in the case.

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The investigative report by KUSA-TV and Boulder's Daily Camera cited experts who questioned Lacy's approach to DNA testing done in 2008, saying it may have been motivated by confirmation bias -- a suggestion that could explain the district attorney's decision to clear the family in the face of inconclusive test results.

Lacy, a longtime believer that an intruder killed JonBenet, left the Boulder DA's office in 2009. She was replaced by Stanley Garrett, who has continued to investigate the case.

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JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her family's home on the afternoon of Dec. 26, 1996, after police and the FBI had been called in to investigate her purported abduction. The girl, 6, died from strangulation and a skull fracture, according to an autopsy, but her murder has never been solved. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI

"We should be doing all reasonable testing that we can do, and we will be," he said Wednesday.

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The JonBenet saga began in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, 1996, when Patsy Ramsey awoke to find her daughter missing from her bedroom and a handwritten ransom note on the staircase. The letter, signed by the acronym S.B.T.C., claimed the girl had been kidnapped and offered her safe return for $118,000.

The Ramseys immediately called police, who with the FBI initiated an intensive search of their upscale Boulder neighborhood and mounted a prolonged surveillance of the household, hoping the kidnappers would call as they promised in the note. They never did.

Despite sweeping searches inside the Ramsey home that morning, JonBenet's body laid in the basement for seven hours before it was found. An autopsy said she died of strangulation and a skull fracture.

It wasn't long before suspicion fell on the Ramseys, due to several abnormalities in the case -- such as a ransom request even though JonBenet had already been killed. The spotlight got even brighter in the following months when the Ramseys stopped cooperating with Boulder police and the conflict was made public.

Evidence at the scene, including an open window and marks on the girl's body that may have been inflicted by a stun gun, suggested an intruder had killed her. However, suspicious that some of the scene may have been staged, Boulder detectives and FBI agents believed that certain elements of the crime -- particularly the ransom note -- and the timeline of events pointed squarely at the Ramseys.

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One element of the letter police found to be potentially incriminating for the Ramseys was the unusual cash amount demanded by the kidnappers -- $118,000, which happened to be the exact amount John Ramsey received as a corporate bonus earlier that year.

Additionally, sensationalist language in the note told investigators that the author may have been highly inexperienced in real crime and relied instead on what they see in films and on television. Two phrases of the letter, for example, appeared to have been lifted directly from the 1971 Clint Eastwood police drama Dirty Harry and the 1994 thriller Speed.

In 1997, the CBI said document examiners indicated the ransom note was written by Patsy Ramsey, but acknowledged that opinion was impossible to prove. Detectives were certain, though, that the pen and pad of paper that produced the note came from inside the Ramsey home. FBI agents, the country's foremost experts on abductions, told police that it's extremely unusual for kidnappers to sit down and write ransom demands at a crime scene.

In 1999, a grand jury voted to indict the Ramseys for child abuse that resulted in their daughter's death, but then-Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to charge them, fearing a conviction was unattainable.

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In 2003, investigators developed a DNA profile from the girl's clothing that they said belonged to an unknown male. In October of this year, though, officials said improved testing of that evidence found DNA markers belonging to two people.

Despite the yearslong investigation and a long list of potential suspects, no one has ever been charged for the girl's death. A man who confessed to being JonBenet's killer in 2006 was ultimately ruled out.

John Ramsey, now 73, moved the family to Michigan and then Georgia after JonBenet's death. He remarried, taking his third wife, in 2011. Patsy Ramsey died of cancer in 2006 at age 49.

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