Colorado State Archives
Executive Orders from the Administration of Governor Bill Owens 1999-2005
Wednesday, October 27, 1999
Governor's Press Office
For the past 34 months, the killers of JonBenet Ramsey have escaped justice. Earlier this month, a Boulder grand jury looking into the case dissolved as District Attorney Alex Hunter announced he would not seek any indictments at this time. Mr. Hunter also stressed that the Ramsey investigation would continue. Against this backdrop, I have faced a very difficult decision as Governor: Whether I should appoint a special prosecutor to take over the Ramsey case.
This is not a decision I take lightly. Law enforcement is chiefly a local governmental function in our State. Only rarely does a Governor take away a criminal case from a District Attorney. Yet there is precedent for a Governor to appoint a special prosecutor who goes on to win a conviction, as Governor Roy Romer did a dozen years ago in a child abuse case.
In other instances - including the 1981 case of serial murderer Angelo Buono, the "Hillside Strangler" of Los Angeles - special prosecutors have gained convictions where District Attorneys have previously refused to file charges. Given the unique facts and history of the JonBenet Ramsey case, many Coloradans - and indeed, many citizens from across America - have urged me to intervene in this case.
To help me weigh these competing considerations, I asked a team of seven legal experts - including experienced prosecutors from both political parties, the Attorney General of Colorado, my own Chief Legal Counsel, and the former Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court - to help me review the law and the evidence in this case. My decision reflects their advice, as well as conversations I have had with many other people connected with this case.
But let me stress that this decision is mine and mine alone. In approaching the Ramsey case, one question has guided me: Will my appointment of a special prosecutor at this stage of the investigation help bring the killers of JonBenet to justice? Or will my appointment of a special prosecutor at this stage of the case make it harder to win a conviction?
Ladies and gentlemen, any unsolved crime of violence tears at the fabric of our society, none more so than the murder of a child. This particular case presents a special threat to the public's respect for our criminal justice system. The killers in this case made some serious mistakes, but they are also very smart. They have stonewalled effectively and covered their tracks well. And the legal burden that the prosecution must satisfy- proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" - is a difficult standard to meet in this case at this time.
Add to this the fact that from the very first day, the Ramsey tragedy has been subjected to an almost unprecedented amount of media coverage.
In the face of this media blitz, the initial handling of the Ramsey case certainly failed to inspire public confidence. As someone who was watching the case from the outside, what I sensed back then I now know to be true: The conduct of the Ramsey investigation at that time was far from perfect. We may never know if any of those initial mistakes were serious enough to affect the outcome of this case. Yet there can be little doubt that the Ramsey case will be harder to prove in court because of the way it was handled during those early months.
As I have said, these initial problems threatened to damage the effort to bring JonBenet's killers to justice. Fortunately, District Attorney Hunter changed course dramatically last year. He recruited three highly respected prosecutors from outside the Boulder District Attorney's Office - Michael Kane, Mitch Morrissey and Bruce Levin - to advise him on the case. This move was far more than symbolic. It reformed and, yes, redeemed the investigation. Far from mere advisors, the team of Kane, Morrissey and Levin took charge of the Ramsey case in a way that gave hope to their fellow prosecutors and police alike.
In the months since Alex Hunter recruited them, Mike Kane, Mitch Morrissey and Bruce Levin have effectively served as "special prosecutors" in this case. Both they and District Attorney Hunter have assured me they will continue on the case.
The grand jury phase of the investigation is of course completed. But let me emphasize that a grand jury is just one of the many tools that has been and will be used to gather evidence in this case. Under Colorado law, the prosecution may bring charges at any time - without the need for a grand jury indictment. During my own review of the Ramsey case, I have learned that substantial new evidence - including evidence that did not originate in the grand jury proceedings - is presently being analyzed and will continue to be analyzed by the prosecution team.
I will not comment on the nature of that evidence, either now or in the future. I will say this: The right people are now working the Ramsey case, and they are working together as a team. And based on the evidence available to me, they are now targeting the right murder suspects.
For these reasons - and with the unanimous support of my legal advisory team - I have decided not to appoint a special prosecutor at this time. Moving forward, I will continue to support the ongoing investigation. Should circumstances change, I will reassess the need for a special prosecutor at that time.
Finally, to the killers of JonBenet Ramsey, let me say this: You only think you have gotten away with murder. There is strong evidence to suggest who you are. I believe that the investigators are moving closer to proving their case. They will keep pursuing you. And I am confident that each day brings us closer to the day when you will reap what you have sown.
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