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Grand jury voted to indict JonBenet Ramsey's parents in 1999

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado authorities on Friday unsealed a grand jury indictment prepared in 1999 against the parents of murdered child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, a document that was never signed by a prosecutor who decided against bringing charges.

The papers show that the grand jury voted to charge John and Patsy Ramsey with child abuse resulting in death and accessory to first-degree murder in the 1996 slaying of their 6-year-old daughter, a crime that has long captivated much of America.

Then-Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to sign the indictment or prosecute the Ramseys, citing a lack of evidence. In 2008, another Boulder County prosecutor cleared the couple of any involvement in JonBenet's murder, which remains unsolved to this day.

Patsy Ramsey reported JonBenet, a child beauty queen, missing early on the morning of December 26, 1996, telling police that she had found a ransom note on the stairs asking $118,000 for her daughter's return.

That afternoon in the basement of their home, John Ramsey discovered the girl's body covered by a blanket, a cord around her neck, wrists bound and duct tape over her mouth. An autopsy showed she had died from strangulation and a skull fracture.

The four pages unsealed by Colorado authorities following a court order offered little insight into the grand jury's thinking, containing only the bare charges with no supporting facts. A court spokesman said nothing more would be released.

The prepared indictment accused both Ramseys of placing their daughter in a risky situation which lead to her death and with assisting her killer in avoiding prosecution. That person is not identified in the court papers.

CASE GOES COLD

A spokeswoman for current Boulder County District Attorney Stanley Garnett, who fought release of the documents, declined comment on Friday, saying the prosecutor would issue a statement on Sunday in the form of a newspaper editorial.

Hunter, who retired as Boulder's top prosecutor in 2000, could not be reached for comment by Reuters on Friday.

During his time in office, Hunter did not disclose that the grand jury had voted to indict the Ramseys, information which became public only when it was reported by the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper earlier this year. The papers were ordered unsealed by a judge following a lawsuit by a Daily Camera reporter and press advocacy group.

The Boulder Police Department, which was criticized by the media over their handling of the sensational case, said in a written statement that its detectives felt at the time that probable cause existed to file charges and were disappointed in Hunter's decision not to pursue indictments.

"As a result, the opportunity to present the entire case to a jury may be lost forever," the department said. "We also understand the criteria for taking a case to trial is higher than probable cause."

Boulder Police said the now-cold case "remains open, but is not actively being pursued because there are no new leads."

John Ramsey also opposed the release of the court papers and said that if the unsigned indictments were made public they should include the entire grand jury record for context.

"It is also extremely important that one keep in mind that the document to be released is a mere snippet of the case that may be of historical interest, but does not take into account the conclusive DNA testing in 2008 which led to the public exoneration of the Ramsey Family by the Boulder District Attorney," John Ramsey's attorney, Lin Wood, told Reuters.

The murder of JonBenet touched off a media frenzy, fueled by controversy over her participation in child beauty pageants, displayed in video clips of which were shown exhaustively on cable TV networks.

Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006 at the age of 49.

(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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