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Family Links ‘Stun Gun’ to JonBenet Death

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A spokeswoman for the family of JonBenet Ramsey on Friday asserted that a “stun gun” was involved in the murder last year of the 6-year-old beauty queen.

Rachelle Zimmer, a Denver lawyer and member of the Ramseys’ defense team, said: “We have known about the use of a stun gun in this murder for many months.

“At the request of law enforcement authorities, we have not previously disclosed it,” she said. “It is unfortunate that this fact has now been published because the killer will likely dispose of the evidence.

“No member of the family has ever owned or possessed one of these devices,” she added. “It must now be clear to any open-minded person that this vicious crime was committed by an outsider.”

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Not so, according to Boulder authorities, who insist that JonBenet’s parents--John and Patricia Ramsey--remain “under an umbrella of suspicion” in what has become one of the most bizarre murder cases in recent U.S. history.

Boulder police spokeswoman Leslie Aaholm declined to comment on the disclosure, saying: “We are conducting an investigation and we are not going to comment on the details.”

However, residents of the neighborhood where JonBenet lived said that detectives have been going door to door asking if anyone owns an electric, Taser-like weapon.

The type of stun gun known as the Taser became well-known after the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers. During that incident, King was shot with one of the weapons, which typically fire two darts that temporarily stun and immobilize a target with 50,000 volts of electricity. Some stun guns, however, are activated by pressing them against a target’s skin.

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Such weapons provide a high-voltage shock aimed at immobilizing a target for several minutes with no permanent damage. A stun gun does not depend upon pain for results. When a person’s neuromuscular system is hit with the electric pulse, instant disorientation and loss of balance occurs.

Neither Boulder authorities nor Zimmer would describe what type of stun gun may have been used in the JonBenet case, what evidence suggests that such a weapon may have been used or even why it would have been used.

And forensic experts who have studied the autopsy report written by the Boulder coroner’s office said it was not immediately clear whether any of the recorded injuries on the child’s body could have been caused by such a weapon.

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Legal experts in Denver theorized that the involvement of a stun gun had been kept secret in hopes that investigators could use the information during interrogations--if and when a suspect is arrested.

Boulder police officials have said that the case, which has been plagued by a lack of conclusive evidence, is far from complete.

A stun gun figured prominently, however, in questions that detectives have been asking residents of the Ramseys’ old Chautauqua neighborhood in this well-scrubbed college town of nearly 100,000 residents about 30 miles northwest of Denver.

The Ramseys recently moved to Atlanta.

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Apparently starting from scratch in an investigation rife with rumor and speculation, detectives also recently have asked whether neighbors have ever owned specific types of shoes, or recalled seeing odd bits of litter in their yards or on the street shortly after the Little Miss Colorado was found strangled and bludgeoned in the basement of her home last Dec. 26.

Some residents wondered why these questions were not asked a year ago.

“I felt the detective’s questions were not very penetrating,” said Margaret Dillon, who lives across an alley behind the Ramseys’ former home, yet was interviewed by police for the first time on Tuesday. “He asked whether we had any duct tape or white nylon cord in our garage. I said we don’t have a garage. He went on to the next question.

“When he asked whether I or anyone I knew owned a stun gun, I was flabbergasted,” she added. “How could it have been used? If it’s critical to the case, why wasn’t it mentioned before?”

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Even as detectives fanned out across Dillon’s neighborhood, Boulder County prosecutors were giving serious consideration to convening a grand jury, which rarely happens in Colorado.

A key mechanism a grand jury affords that other avenues do not is the ability to take testimony under oath. However, if there are multiple suspects and all invoke their 5th Amendment right to remain silent, the only way to force testimony would be to offer immunity to at least one.

“We’re boning up on our research because we don’t do a lot of grand juries, and we don’t like the secrecy surrounding them,” said Boulder First Assistant Dist. Atty. Bill Wise. “Then too, if forced to make such a decision, we’d have to be very careful about who we immunize so we don’t immunize the person who committed the crime.”

An attorney close to the formidable Ramsey team of defense lawyers, private detectives and public relations experts suggested another reason for calling a grand jury to order: “If the grand jury says there’s not enough evidence to indict, the district attorney can cover his butt by saying, ‘I told you so.’ ”

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No arrests have been made or suspects named in the year-old murder probe. But Police Cmdr. Mark Beckner, who recently replaced Cmdr. John Eller as the lead investigator, said at a news conference earlier this month that he planned to do additional testing on physical evidence.

He also aims to re-interview witnesses, including JonBenet’s millionaire father, who is president and chief executive officer of Access Graphics, a large local computer firm; her mother, who was crowned Miss West Virginia in 1977; and JonBenet’s 10-year-old brother, Burke.

The case unfolded about 5 a.m. on the day after Christmas, 1996, when 40-year-old Patsy Ramsey found a three-page ransom note on the steps of a spiral staircase in their house. The note demanded $118,000 for the girl’s release--an amount roughly equal to 53-year-old John Ramsey’s 1995 company bonus.

John Ramsey found the child’s body eight hours later in an empty cellar in an obscure section of the family’s basement.

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In what some have labeled a botched investigation, police initially failed to conduct a thorough search of the premises, and allowed family friends and relatives to tromp throughout the house.

Since then, the case has acquired a three-ring-circus atmosphere.

During the last 12 months, detectives have traveled to Tucson to question a woman who claimed to be John Ramsey’s mistress, and explored a possible link between a line in Psalm 118 that reads “bind the sacrifice with cords” and the $118,000 demanded in the ransom note.

They also have taken hair and handwriting samples from former Ramsey neighbor Bill McReynolds, who played Santa Claus in JonBenet’s home three days before she was slain. On Dec. 26, 1974, McReynolds’ 9-year-old daughter was abducted with a friend and witnessed the sexual molestation of her friend. What’s more, McReynolds’ wife wrote a play in 1976 about the sexual assault, torture and murder of a girl whose body is found in a basement.

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“This case is so bizarre you couldn’t make it up on LSD,” mused prominent Denver criminal defense lawyer Craig Truman.

This much is clear: JonBenet suffered a vicious blow to the head, was gagged with duct tape, strangled with a piece of white nylon cord attached to the broken handle of a paint brush--and apparently zapped with a stun gun.

But exactly how and why there were small amounts of dried blood, bruising and abrasions in the vaginal area remains the subject of heated debate.

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Despite reports to the contrary, there never was any semen found at the scene of the crime. And some experts now wonder whether the abrasions could have been possibly caused by bubble bath, or persistent moisture resulting from her chronic bed-wetting.

Sitting on a white couch in her home, former Ramsey friend Judith Phillips sighed and said, “Now the cops are asking questions it seems they should have asked a year ago. And what does this stuff about a stun gun mean?

“Nothing is sure in this crazy case,” she said. “Boulder parents such as myself only want to see justice done as quickly as possible.”


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