DENVER (CBS/AP) - A grand jury voted in 1999 to charge JonBenet Ramsey's parents with crimes related to their 6-year-old daughter's death, according to documents released Friday morning. A judge ordered the release as the result of a lawsuit brought by a Colorado journalist and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Six-year-old JonBenet was found bludgeoned and strangled in their home in Boulder on Dec. 26, 1996, setting off years of sensational news coverage. Three years after her death, a grand jury reviewed evidence against John and Patsy Ramsey and a series of possible charges were considered by grand jurors, but it had not been clear whether they voted to charge one or both parents.
The documents released Friday show that the grand jury voted to charge both John and Patsy Ramsey with one count of Child Abuse Resulting in Death and one count of Accessory to a Crime. The grand jury issued two separate, but identical indictments for each parent. They state:
On or between Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, 1996 in Boulder County, Colo., John Bennett Ramsey did unlawfully, knowingly, recklessly and feloniously permit a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child's life or health, which resulted in the death of JonBenet Ramsey, a child under the age of sixteen.
On or between Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, 1996 in Boulder County, Colo., John Bennett Ramsey did unlawfully, knowingly and feloniously render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of Murder in the First Degree and Child Abuse Resulting in Death
The Ramseys maintained their innocence, offering a $100,000 reward for the killer and mounting a newspaper campaign seeking evidence.
The district attorney at the time, Alex Hunter, who presented the evidence to the grand jury, declined to pursue charges, saying: "I and my prosecutorial team believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time."
Former prosecutor and law professor Karen Steinhauser said grand juries sometimes hear evidence that won't be admitted during trial that can form the basis of indictments. But she added that prosecutors must have a good faith belief that they could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt before pursuing charges.
"I'm not sure that the release of this indictment is going to change the fact that there has not been able to be a prosecution and probably won't be able to be a prosecution," she said.
Over the years, some experts have suggested that investigators botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved.
Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said the case remains open but it's not an active investigation. He predicted the indictment's release wouldn't change anything.
"Given the publicity that's been out there, many people have formed their opinions one way or another," he said.
Earlier this week, John Ramsey asked officials to release the entire grand jury record if the unprosecuted indictment was made public. However, the judge said transcripts of grand jury proceedings and evidence presented to it are not considered "official action" under the law governing criminal court records. He also said releasing such information could hurt other grand juries, whose work is secret.
An attorney representing John Ramsey, L. Lin Wood, said he's confident that no evidence in the grand jury case implicated the Ramsey family and the public should be able to see that for themselves.
JonBenet Ramsey's mother, Patsy, died of cancer in 2006, the same year a globe-hopping school teacher was arrested in Thailand after falsely claiming to have killed JonBenet. Former District Attorney Mary Lacy said in 2008 that DNA evidence suggests the killer was a stranger, not a family member, and she announced that she planned to treat the Ramseys as victims of the crime. Lacy did not immediately return a phone call.