Latest DNA technology has resulted in the exoneration of the family members of the murdered child beauty queen Jon Benet Ramsey now stands exonerated. But questions remain.
Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy in Colorado, US, said Wednesday no one in the Ramsey family was considered a suspect and formally apologized in a letter to John Ramsey for the cloud of suspicion his family has lived under for nearly 12 years.
The parents John and Patsy Ramsey, and their son, Burke, were under "an umbrella of suspicion" in JonBenet's death, although they were never named as suspects.
John Ramsey found his daughter's body in the basement of the family's Boulder home on December 26, 1996. She had been strangled and beaten. The girl was only six years old then.
Testing in 1998 showed that DNA evidence found in the girl's underwear and beneath her fingernails was from an unidentified man and did not match anyone in the Ramsey family.
Genetic material was scraped from the waistband of the long johns, which JonBenet was wearing over her underwear when her body was found.
DNA from two sites on the long johns matched genetic material from an unknown male that had previously been recovered from blood in JonBenet's underpants.
The matching DNA from three places on two articles of JonBenet's clothing convinced the district attorney that it belonged to the killer, and hadn't been left accidentally by a third party. This so-called "touch DNA" is left behind when people touch things, because they naturally shed skin cells that contain the genetic material.
In this case, the new DNA was recovered by guessing where JonBenet's killer might have handled the long johns she was wearing.
"It's not a stain, you can't see it," said Angela Williamson, director of forensic casework at Bode Technology Group in Lorton, Virginia, in suburban Washington. That's the company that recovered the new DNA material.
To find such DNA, "you have to have a good idea of where someone has been touched, or in this case, where you think the suspect would have touched" JonBenet's clothing, she said.
Investigators suggested that somebody pulling down her pants would have touched the waistband and the sides of the long johns, Williamson said. So Bode scientists scraped those areas with a sharp blade to see if they could find DNA.
Additional tests were conducted to ensure that the genetic material did not come from law enforcement or medical examiner's personnel, the statement said.
That same DNA also exonerated John Mark Karr, a one-time schoolteacher, after he was arrested in Thailand and confessed to the killing in 2006. Lacy was widely criticized for the handling of Karr's arrest.
But Lacy blamed "evidence reported by the media" rather than "evidence that had been tested in court" for suspicions cast on the Ramseys as the case was investigated, suspicions that she said "created an ongoing living hell for the Ramsey family and their friends."
"It's hard for people to accept that someone could some into a home and murder a child from their bed. We were perhaps an answer. It became an entertainment event for the media sadly. It boosted ratings, attracted viewers to develop that controversy. But sadly there's 2,000 children murdered in our country every year. For some reason this became a very public event," said Ramsey.
It became a public event only because the Ramseys had carried around their daughter to promote JonBenet who went on to win several crowns America's Royal Miss, Colorado State All-Star Kids Cover Girl, Little Miss Charlevoix Michigan, Little Miss Merry Christmas, Little Miss Sunburst, and National Tiny Miss Beauty.
The first images of JonBenet Ramsey that were broadcast to the world showed a pretty little girl in heavy make-up and flamboyant costumes parading across a stage. At the time, the media described her as "a painted baby, a sexualized toddler beauty queen."
There are still many unsolved questions as to whether the family had tried to shield the murderer, even if they themselves were not directly involved.
And many have wondered whether Lacy showed undue enthusiasm in going public with the exonerations when doubts still persist and the case has not been resolved one way or another,