Thursday, August 17, 2006

For the Ramseys justice will never be done.

It was almost ten years ago that the body of JonBenet Ramsey was found in the basement of her Boulder, Colorado home. She was six-years-old. That morning her mother awoke to find a strange ransom note in the home and called the police. It was first assumed the child was kidnapped but her body was discovered much later in the basement. The case was sensationalised by the media and attracted unprecedented attention.

But as it dragged on some started to wonder about the family. At first the questions were more sceptical. Could the parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, have been involved? What about nine-year-old brother, Burke? And then they got more accusatory. Rumours spread like wildfire. And the police, who had botched the initial investigation, turned their attention on the Ramseys.

People were talking. The parents didn’t “act right” when interviewed, it was said. People claimed to have knowledge but it was mostly invented on the spot. Some law enforcement officials were adamant the parents did it. Prosecutors were hinting at the Ramseys as the perpetrators. The media feed the speculation. The horrified parents insisted they could not have done such a thing but the feeding frenzy had started.

Consider the dilemma of someone at the centre of such outrageous scrutiny. Speak to the media and worry about interviews being edited in ways that twist what you say. It is emotionally wrenching to be surrounded by people demanding answers. Your nerves are shot, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat. You can’t think. And if you have just buried your youngest child you are devastated. And like a flock of carnivorous sea gulls the media descends on you. Pecking at you, constantly pecking at your flesh trying to find something to get ahold of. One wrong word and you look guilty. So you are terrified to speak. Don’t speak and you look guilty. Your entire life is shattered.

And the tongues are wagging. The rumours are accumulating, getting grander and more detailed and more false with each retelling. Every little thing is twisted out of proportion into an accusation. The entire nation is focused on you and in your heart you know the accusations are false, distorted, twisted beyond the facts.

So it was for the Ramseys. And the cased dragged on and on for years. It only takes seconds on the internet to find all the opinions expressed pointing a finger at them. Innuendo becomes common knowledge though it is knowledge without substance. The longer the case dragged on the more the public was convinced the parents had to be the culprits. Everyone wanted “someone” to pay and “who else could have done it?”

One problem we humans have is that once we get an idea in our head, right or wrong, we tend only to see only that which confirms our beliefs. Evidence to the contrary tends to be ignored. So it was with the Ramseys. Once everyone’s attention was turned on them other possibilities were not investigated. The District Attorney said the family was under an “umbrella of suspicion”. The parents were interrogated. The young brother was questioned by police for six hours. A Grand Jury investigation into the family and the killing began. And nothing. But the suspicion remained.

In 2003 a federal judge looked at the case in light of the rules of evidence, and not the trial by innuendo that was rampant in the media. He concluded that the evidence seemed to imply an intruder was the culprit and not the parents or brother. A month later a new District Attorney in the case said she agreed with the judge. An attorney for the family said: "I think the public's mind was so poisoned against the family that no one was able for too many years to look at the evidence." Now the police went back to reinvestigate the case. And this time they found a DNA sample they overlooked before.

Now a suspect has been arrested. According to media reports he has confessed. And everything we know about his history indicates he may well be guilty. Only time will tell for sure. Certainly if the DNA matches there will be no question

But as comforting as this will be to those subjected to trial by media is it enough? Patsy Ramsey did not live to see the man suspected of killing her daughter arrested. She died of ovarian cancer only a few weeks ago. At least she was informed that police were focusing on a suspect. If this man is convicted of the crime Patsy will never know the feeling of being totally vindicated.

For ten years millions of people were convinced she had brutally murdered her own young daughter. Millions of others pointed their accusatory fingers at John or at Burke. And for years nothing swayed people from this cruel indictment. Had the police dropped the matter the truth would never have come out and the family would have been viewed as killers for the rest of their lives.

Such horror should not be inflicted on anyone. A sceptical approach must always be entertained. It took ten years to vindicate the Ramsey family and to put them back in the category where they belonged: victims. They were victims of the killer. But they were needlessly victims of the press, the police, the district attorney as well. They were victims of innuendo and rumour and exaggeration.

It might be said that justice is being done. But for the Ramseys justice can never be done. Once such viciousness is unleashed on someone it can never be recalled. The pain and the suffering will be with them their entire lives. Patsy died with the scars inflicted on her by so many. Such scars never heal. The years they lost will never be returned to them. The pain that was so cruelly inflicted on them can not be reversed. And even now, when they seem most vindicated, they know that someone will always think the accusations true. They will never get their lives back and they know it.