April 6, 2000
CNBC News Network
ALEX HUNTER, BOULDER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ON THE JONBENET RAMSEY MURDER CASE n
CNBC News Transcripts April 6, 2000
GERALDO RIVERA, host: It was an ominous, but as it turned out overly optimistic threat, a promise that the person or persons responsible for the horrific murder of JonBenet Ramsey would soon be called to account for their brutal deed. But as you all know, as the world knows, the killing of that innocent six-year-old child has gone unpunished for more than three years, and much of the blistering criticism for that has fallen on the shoulders of this man, Alex Hunter. He has been the prosecutor for three decades. He served as the popular seven-times-elected DA of Boulder County for the past 28 years. Last month he announced he would not be seeking an eighth term. And local residents will surely remember his many innovations and accomplishments. He was the first, for example, Colorado prosecutor to create a program that compensates victims of crime--very innovative and, of course, now the law in many states. But the rest of us will surely always know him from his role in the case of the beautiful little girl whose photograph he keeps on his deck to this day, a girl named JonBenet Ramsey. Do you feel, in a way, that you know her, Alex? First of all, let me formally shake your hand. Nice to have you.
Mr. HUNTER: Yeah, it's good to see you.
RIVERA: Thanks. Thank you.
Mr. HUNTER: It's good to be here and talk to your constituents.
RIVERA: Thank you.
Mr. HUNTER: You know, I think I do. You know, I have a--I had, at that time, a seven-year-old boy, John, and so I think, like the rest of America, I--you know, I felt the loss of this little girl. I really think she's become symbolic for the children that we lost that year and probably in subsequent years, about 2,000. I think America grabbed on to her.
RIVERA: So you think that she obviously has importance beyond ju--I'm not--can't say just; every--any loss of a child, ob--obviously, is horrific and tragic. But she represents much more than just her case?
Mr. HUNTER: I think it's the only way to explain how America holds on to this case and hopes for this case and feels frustrated that--that we haven't cracked this case yet. And, of course, I'm hoping that maybe some of your viewers will continue to be patient, like Henry Lee tells me to be--be patient. I mean, so many of our cases in this country, in every jurisdiction, every police chief, every DA knows, they s--they're solved after four or five or six years, and there are things in this case...
RIVERA: I--I--I think...
Mr. HUNTER: ...that I think hold promise. I'm not going to give up, Geraldo.
RIVERA: I--I was going to say...
Mr. HUNTER: I'm not giving up.
RIVERA: I was going to say like what? Like--all right, here's one: the lie detector test. One of the few things I believed in the Ramseys' recent book was their offer to take a lie detector test. Was I naive? Will they really take a lie detector test? Any movement toward that?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, there's a lot of movement. We're going to be meeting Monday, my team, to talk about the pros and cons. It's a complicated issue. You and I were talking about the Moxley case. You know, we have a polygraph in that case that a witness failed some years ago. Now we have a new defendant, and it--it compromises the case to some extent, although it's inadmissible. You know, I think it taints potentially a jury pool that we have that out there.
RIVERA: But you can't chicken out from a lie detector test if they offer to do one.
Mr. HUNTER: W--y--I don't--well, chicken out's a little strong, but, you know, I have to worry about a couple of things, as I advise Chief Beckner. For example, there are drugs that people can take that lower perspiration, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, which are some of the key things that we try to test. You know, I don't want to get sucked into something that goes to the integrity of this case. I'm trying to keep this case healthy as much as I can. And so...
RIVERA: Well, you've done a magnificent job. You really have.
Mr. HUNTER: Well, I don't know about that.
RIVERA: No, no, I--I--the case was botched, in my opinion, from the very beginning, with all due respect, and mostly, I think, with all due respect to them, by the Boulder police. However, had you indicted them without the eviden--evidence to convict them, whoever 'them' are--of course, I'm not suggesting--then double jeopardy would have applied if you didn't get the conviction. You could never go after them if, indeed, something that you consider promising now were to come to fruition in years to come.
Mr. HUNTER: Well, that's right. And--and I wish that--that Americans understood the dangers there of a rush to judgment. I mean, we have so many cases. Frankly, I think O.J. was a ru--I think the prosecutors were pushed by Cochran and team to move too quickly. We have a case in Colorado, a famous case--a bank robby--br--robbery shooting case, where I think the DA felt some pressure to move, filed and the case was lost. And it's never to be tried again. And some people s--don't seem to understand jeopardy.
RIVERA: Are the Ramseys still under the umbrella of suspicion, and--two part question--does that mean they are suspects in the case?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, you know, I don't like 'umbrella of suspicion.' That--that's cheap.
RIVERA: Didn't you coin it?
Mr. HUNTER: No, I don't believe I coined that. I'm not going to take credit for that. This is Chief Beckner's words. And--and, you know, being a lawyer, I probably get caught up in words. What I say is they're not excluded. And what I also say is that the people that are working this case--and--and John Ramsey was saying the other day, 'You know, the cops aren't objective,' and so on and so forth. But, Mike Kane, one of the best lawyers I've ever worked with: Mitch Morrissey, Colorado's probably foremost DNA expert; Bruce Levin, five homicides back to back before Bob Grant allowed him to join me--these are objective, ethical lawyers that are telling the cops, telling these detectives, who I respect, the ones that have been working the case in this War Room we're going to talk about, what to do, and they've been doing it. They've been going down those roads that, I think, need to be traveled and are doing those things that--that I think other American prosecutors would do.
RIVERA: Before I show the--first-time ever the exclusive photos of the War Room, so called, d--they have not been excluded. Does that mean, in the lay sense at the very least, that John and Patsy Ramsey remain suspects in the di--in the killing of their daughter?
Mr. HUNTER: I think it's--it's fair to--I don't like to use that word because it has a connotation that I think sort of messes around with presumption of innocence. I think people think if somebody's a suspect, they're not presumed innocent, which you and I, as lawyers, know is not true. So I like 'excluded.' But, you know, I think the bottom line is th--that they are suspect...
RIVERA: They are suspects?
Mr. HUNTER: ...in--in the s--in the sense that they are not excluded.
RIVERA: Get--get one of the Governor Owens' statements racked up. But go ahead.
Mr. HUNTER: You know--you know, and--and if--if--if a path or a thread led to you, we'd be looking at you, and we'd be talking...
RIVERA: Do any paths lead to anybody other than them?
Mr. HUNTER: I'm not going to talk about those kinds of matters of evidence.
RIVERA: OK. So you won't tell me if there are any other suspects?
Mr. HUNTER: I'm just going to tell you that people are giving everything they've got to try to crack this case.
RIVERA: OK. Before, I roll the governor, here is what the War Room--it--it is a modest room, but it's a small city, Boulder is; small, obviously very attractive city. There it is. And this is where the work--is it ongoing...
Mr. HUNTER: Now this--this--it's...
RIVERA: ...or is it lying fallow now?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, that room has been turned back to its original owners, so so speak. Bu this is where Mike Kane, Mitch Morrissey, Bruce Levin and I worked, along with now Commander Wickman, Jane Harmer, Ron Gosage and Tom Trujillo. There's about 50,000 pages of reports, over 100 ex--specialists and experts.
RIVERA: Can I have them? Just kidding.
Mr. HUNTER: And this is a place where Mike Kane, who is my lead--John Ramsey talked about him as a special--as being a special prosecutor. I hired him to come in as a special grand jury expert, and this is where he kind of managed the team. And I h--I have to say, Geraldo, that, you know, there are--there are some high--high spots and some low spots about this case, but having had the opportunity to work with--with these men...
RIVERA: Oh, but...
Mr. HUNTER: ...including the detectives and Henry Lee and Scheck...
RIVERA: But it sh--but it must have been--it must be heartbreaking, and you must be awfully disappointed. You must have a--a a bitter hole in your soul just because you care so much about that child.
Mr. HUNTER: Well, y--I do have kind of an aching heart, but, you know, every prosecutor in America has cases that...
Mr. HUNTER: ...they haven't solved that they're working on, and--and I don't think that--you know, I don't want the Americans to--to lose heart about staying with us on this and being patient and letting us do the things that need to be done.
RIVERA: Well, I think, you know, words well--well spoken and, you know, hopefully, we'll take them to heart. However, here is one impatient man in the state of Colorado, who happens to be the governor of that state. Roll tape S.
Governor BILL OWENS (Republican, Colorado): (From October 27, 1999) To the killers of JonBenet Ramsey, let me say this: You only think you have gotten away with murder. There is strong evidence to suggest who you are. I believe that investigators are moving closer to proving their case. They will keep pursuing you. And I'm confident that each day brings us closer to the day when you will reap what you have sown. If I could speak to John and Patsy Ramsey, I'd tell them to quit hiding behind their attorneys, quit hiding behind their PR firm, come back to Colorado, work with us to find the killers in this case, no matter where that trail may lead.
RIVERA: Now those were strong words from a sitting governor of a--you know, a sovereign state directed at your only two named suspects so far.
Mr. HUNTER: And a frustrated father like you.
RIVERA: And a frustrated father like--like me and you.
Mr. HUNTER: Right.
RIVERA: What'd you think when the governor said that?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, you know, I would have advised him differently, but I'm supposed to be more careful with my words. I'm a--I'm a lawyer, and I slip up all the time. So I--you know, I know that a number of people have criticized him and have said, you know, 'finger to the wind, being political.' I don't think so. If this man wanted to be political, he would have taken my tail off of this case. He had that chance with the blue ribbon panel. He didn't do that. I--I think he's doing what I see in--in thousands of letters that I get from Americans that--and e-mails and other communications, some of them not love letters...
RIVERA: I'm sure.
Mr. HUNTER: ...who are frustrated about this.
RIVERA: Was a stun gun used to incapacitate the child and facilitate the homicide?
Mr. HUNTER: I'm not going to talk to you about matters of evidence, but I will say that the issue of stun gun was raised long ago and has been looked at thoroughly by my team.
RIVERA: And rejected?
Mr. HUNTER: The team rejects it at this point in time.
RIVERA: And so when the Ramseys...
Mr. HUNTER: Now that doesn't mean we close our minds...
Mr. HUNTER: ...but at this point in time.
RIVERA: And so when the Ramseys put their entire defense basically on that--on that--certainly the strongest hook, I suspected all along that it was really a weak, shaky hook indeed. Anyway, I have Alex Hunter, One on One for the remaining 20 minutes of the program. Back in a flash. Stay tuned.
(Graphic on screen)
"If the parents wanted to bring their child to a basement quietly they wouldn't have to use a stun gun...
They would just say, come on, we're gonna go to the basement...for a surprise or something. ...
You know that doesn't fit their theory that John or I were involved."
Source: ABC News, 20/20
RIVERA: This is the statement I was referring to. Well, this is what they told ABC News. In the book, they also refer--reference the so-called stun gun and how it--it clears them. Here's what Patsy said to ABC: 'If the parents wanted to bring their child to a basement quietly, they wouldn't have to use a stun gun. They would just say, "Come on. We're going to go to the basement for a surprise" or something. You know that doesn't fit their theory that John or I were involved.' So they make a big deal about the fact that if it were them, they wouldn't have needed a stun gun, but as District Attorney Hunter has pointed out, his team has already rejected the notion that a stun gun was, in fact, used. What do you think about the intruder theory, generally, Alex?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, this team of mine--the reason I hesitate is that it seems to me that I hear the Ramseys to say that nobody looks at anything but one theory: them. And I just--you know, I have said in other places and I will say here that the people that are working this case are looking at everything. That's what they've done in their careers. That's what they have done in this case. Now there may have been an officer or two early on who had blinders on. That's not the case with the people that have been working this case. And the other thing I wanted to say, when we talk about the stun...
RIVERA: Well, and so the an--the answer is in the intruder theory?
Mr. HUNTER: We have not said that we would not receive information about intruder theory. I keep waiting. John Ramsey said the other day he's got 30 tips. I'm waiting for John, I'm anxious for John--I mean this sincerely. The door is open.
RIVERA: He has not yet given you the tips...
Mr. HUNTER: I haven't seen these tips. And--and Lou Smit--and Lou...
RIVERA: ...that he advertised in his book?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, he talked about tips coming in as a result of the book the other day, and--and I would like to have those because I do think that there are things we can do that he can't do. And, frankly, I wait for Lou Smit to--who--who I respect...
RIVERA: The retired detective working s--kind of the Ramsey camp, now free-lancing, sort of.
Mr. HUNTER: Well, you know, we had one detective throw his badge down because he thought the investigation was too directed at the Ramseys, and another one throw his badge down for the opposite reason, which makes me feel that maybe...
RIVERA: You t...
Mr. HUNTER: ...that suggests we're going down the middle, which is our job. I used to say to Lou, 'Stay neutral, Lou,' because otherwise you can't put your heart into what you're looking at at any given time. I mean, if somebody came in tomorrow morning and I have 5,000 letters and said, 'I have this information that I think supports an intruder theory,' I would tell Tom Trujillo or Wickman or Gosage or Harmer, and they would--they would pursue that.
RIVERA: So is it fair to say that, as of tonight, as we sit here tonight, you do not have convincing evidence of an intruder to the Ramsey home?
Mr. HUNTER: We have some evidence of intruder. We have not closed our mind to it. But I--I'm not going to say that all we have is looking in the house. I'm not going to say that that's all we have or all that we are concerned with, because there's--the case is more complicated than that.
RIVERA: The ransom note--clearly, it's a fake. When you say that Patsy Ramsey has not been excluded as the author of the note, are you saying, because it's parallel to your previous statement that they're not excluded as possible suspects in the case--are you saying that it is one of your suspicions that Patsy Ramsey wrote the note or Patsy Ramsey is a suspect in the authoring of the note?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, you know, I--I think, in fairness to this investigation, the handwriting people that we have retained in this case and that have been retained by the Ramseys, I--it--it is a very low probability, according to these experts. Now these handwriting--you know, in the--in the Oklahoma City bombing case, Matsch didn't let--let that stuff in. There's a lot of mumbo-jumbo to it. I don't think it's particularly reliable. So I don't think it's fair to say that, you know, what these experts say, sug--they just don't exclude her.
RIVERA: She's not...
Mr. HUNTER: They don't exclude her, but it's very low. And, frankly, if we get this to trial, which I hope, I would prefer to give that note to the jury and give that jury historical writings that--that might pertain to a particular individual and have them using their common sense, because these handwriting people have come up with such a scale and standards that it's really hard to...
RIVERA: It's a--it's--it's not quite a science yet.
Mr. HUNTER: No.
RIVERA: All right. Let me take a break. I want to ask many more questions about--about this case, not the least of which is: Who's the voice on the 911 tape? They said Burke, the child, was asleep. So who's talking? Stay tuned. Right back. (Announcements)
RIVERA: Alex and I--Alex Hunter, the Boulder DA, and I talking about the situation in Los Angeles, where you have a war going on between the LAPD and the district attorney's office that is severely curtailing progress in the sam--so-called Rampart scandal that I've been reporting on in the last few months. It--it is something he is all too familiar with, the situation in Boulder. Before I get to that fight--apparent fight or lack of cooperation or war, whatever you call it, between the DA and the--between you and the cops in Boulder, let me go back to that point I raised at the commercial break. On the 911 call, there is, I am told, a voice of a third party. Patsy and John say that their child, Burke, was asleep at the time the 911 call was made. Whose voice is it? And is this catching the Ramseys in a lie?
Mr. HUNTER: I'm not going to speak to that.
RIVERA: All right. Let me ask you this way then. Is it a fact that there is a third--that there is a voice heard on the tape, other than John and Patsy's?
Mr. HUNTER: Not going to answer it.
RIVERA: OK. Let me try it this way. Was Burke--all right, all right, all right. I get it. So...
Mr. HUNTER: It's a--it's a grand jury matter, and I--I just don't...
RIVERA: OK. No--no--no problem.
Mr. HUNTER: ...think it's appropriate to talk about it.
RIVERA: I--I heard there's a--it's on the tape and--anyway. Let me--let me talk about the lack of cooperation, or the apparent one. Was there a conflict between you and the cops? Has it materially impaired this investigation?
Mr. HUNTER: Well, you know, I know your--we're going to talk a little bit about the LAPD. There--there was disagreements, personality difficulties in the early stages of this case. We had some strange personalities. And in a high-profile case, it's sort of interesting looking at Claus, Gacy, O.J. and others. When the cameras come in and you're telling your friends you're going to solve a case, and it doesn't come around, you start looking for scapegoat; there's conflict. And this is something I've been talking to police and prosecutors about around the country, because there are a lot of lessons to learned in this case. There were disagreements. There are often disagreements between police and prosecutors: different roles, different functions. DA's a qua--quasijudicial officer who has to measure sufficiency of evidence, you know, all that sort of thing. That's one reason we set up the War Room, one reason we brought in mediators to try to get everybody back on the same page. And I remember when Henry Lee first came to town. He lectured all of us, you know, 'Get on the same page,' which, of course, makes sense. And we...
RIVERA: But it took you a while.
Mr. HUNTER: It took us a while.
RIVERA: All right.
Mr. HUNTER: It took us a while.
RIVERA: Alex Hunter, good luck man.
Mr. HUNTER: Thank you.
RIVERA: Appreciate it.
Mr. HUNTER: Good to be here.
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