DENVER | The Boulder District Attorney yesterday exonerated the family of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey as suspects in her death, pointing to new DNA evidence that excludes the Ramseys and implicates an unknown male as the killer.
District Attorney Mary T. Lacy also apologized to John Ramsey, JonBenet's father, for the longstanding public perception that he, his wife Patsy or son Burke was involved in the girl's gruesome death.
"To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry," said Mrs. Lacy in a three-page letter to Mr. Ramsey.
"We intend in the future to treat you as the victims of this crime, with the sympathy due you because of the horrific loss you suffered," said Wednesday's letter.
Mrs. Lacy, who was not serving as district attorney at the time of the 1996 murder, gave the letter to Mr. Ramsey in person in a meeting at her office.
In an interview with KUSA-TV, the Denver NBC-TV affiliate, Mr. Ramsey said he hoped the new DNA match would lead authorities to the murderer.
"Certainly we are grateful they acknowledged, based on that [evidence], that we certainly could not have been involved," said Mr. Ramsey. "But the most important thing is we now have very, very solid evidence, and that's always been the hope, at least in the recent past, that that will lead us to the killer."
John and Patsy Ramsey were identified as suspects shortly after their daughter's body was found in the basement of her Boulder home the morning after Christmas. She had been garroted, sexually assaulted and strangled.
Mrs. Ramsey in particular was viewed as a prime suspect as a result of a handwritten ransom note left behind at the house, which reportedly bore similarities to her script.
She remained at the center of the case until she died two years ago at age 49 of ovarian cancer.
"We do not consider your immediate family, including you, your wife Patsy and your son Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime," said the letter. "I wish we could have done so before Mrs. Ramsey died."
The new evidence centers on a recently developed technology called "touch DNA." The process involves scraping places on clothing or other material that show no sign of stains, and analyzing them for possible unseen genetic evidence.
An analysis by the Bode Technology Group found evidence of DNA on JonBenet's longjohns, the clothing she wore at the time of the murder, that matched the previously identified material found in her underwear.
"The match of male DNA on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of the murder makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items," Mrs. Lacy said.
What's more, there is no "innocent explanation" for the genetic material's presence, she said.
Denver attorney Scott Robinson, an expert on the case, said the significance of the discovery could not be overstated.
"The JonBenet Ramsey case is perhaps the biggest unsolved mystery existing in America," Mr. Robinson said. "And this evidence, though it doesn't tell us who did it, tells us who didn't do it, and that's huge."
For years, the murder was a media sensation, due largely to JonBenet's status as a beauty queen who had entered and won numerous child pageants. Her mother, a former Miss West Virginia, managed her career. Photos of the blond-haired girl, decked out in an array of costumes and frocks, became staples of tabloid coverage.
Last year, Mrs. Lacy learned of the touch DNA method, and hired Bode Technology to conduct tests. The DNA profile developed from the two samples will now be added to the national database in the hope that a match will someday be found, said Mr. Ramsey.
"I'm still hopeful it will [be solved], based on the DNA," Mr. Ramsey said.