JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty queen whose slaying has stymied investigators in this college town for more than a decade, did not die at the hands of her family, the Boulder district attorney said Wednesday.
New DNA evidence supports the theory that an unidentified man killed the child, Mary Lacy said.
"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," Lacy wrote in a letter delivered to John Ramsey. His wife died two years ago of ovarian cancer.
"I wish we could have done so before Mrs. Ramsey died," the letter says.
It was Lacy's strongest statement to date clearing the family of any wrongdoing in the Dec. 26, 1996, death of JonBenet, who was found in her family's basement with a garrote around her neck. Speculation swirled that family members were involved, and the Ramseys became tabloid fodder.
The Boulder Police Department said at the time that the Ramseys were under an "umbrella of suspicion" -- a statement it has never retracted.
The department's involvement in the case ended in 2002, when Lacy's office took over the investigation.
In 2006, the district attorney's office suffered a major embarrassment after it arrested an American teacher in Thailand who claimed to have killed the girl. DNA tests ruled out any involvement by John Mark Karr, and some critics said Lacy had been too eager to clear the Ramseys.
In a statement, Boulder Police Chief Mark R. Beckner said the new DNA finding was "significant." He did not make reference to the Ramseys but said: "We remain committed to bringing JonBenet's killer to justice. That is, and always will be, our goal."
At the time of the killing, police obtained the DNA profile of an unidentified man from genetic material found on JonBenet's underwear. The sample has remained unmatched in a national DNA databank.
In 2007, authorities decided to reexamine the child's clothing using a new method called "touch DNA," in which items are scraped for possible genetic material. The laboratory recovered material from the waistband of the long johns JonBenet was wearing. That sample matched the previous DNA found on her underwear.
"It is very unlikely that there would be an innocent explanation for DNA found . . . on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of her murder," Lacy said in a statement. "It is therefore the position of the Boulder district attorney's office that this profile belongs to the perpetrator of the homicide."
She said suspicion had "created an ongoing living hell" for the Ramseys. "We believe that justice dictates that the Ramseys be treated only as victims of this very serious crime," Lacy said.
John Ramsey told a Denver TV station that Lacy didn't need to apologize. "They've always done the right thing, the courageous thing, in my opinion," he said.
Ramsey said he remained hopeful that the case would be solved: "We have a good, solid, irrefutable DNA sample. . . . We have a good opportunity to find an answer to who did this."