A Colorado prosecutor whose predecessor declined to prosecute JonBenet Ramsey’s parents for child abuse after a grand jury indicted them called the decision difficult and said he wasn’t sure what he would have done.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, commenting for the first time on 1999 court papers unsealed Friday following a court order, said the former prosecutor decided not to pursue criminal charges against John and Patricia “Patsy” Ramsey because of a lack of evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
"I don't know if I would have made the same decision, but I know how difficult these decisions are," Garnett wrote in a guest opinion article Sunday in the Boulder Daily Camera.
The grand jury determined there was probable cause -- a lesser burden of proof than reasonable doubt — to charge the Ramseys for child abuse resulting in death and an accessory to slaying of their 6-year-old daughter.
Garnett said he learned of the sealed documents when he took office in 2009, but a review showed that the statute of limits had run out on the charges.
“My staff evaluated the Ramsey case to determine if there was any charge for which the statute of limitations had not run and for which there was conclusive evidence,” Garnett wrote. “Because there was none, we focused on other matters (including four murders we tried in 2009, two of which were cold cases).”
The long-sealed indictment provided no specifics on the abuse allegations and did not accuse the Ramseys of killing the child beauty queen whose unsolved murder for years has made tantalizing headlines.
The parents were never prosecuted and were later cleared by DNA evidence that gave credence to their suggestion that an unknown intruder was responsible for the murder.
The Boulder Police Department — which put the Ramseys under an "umbrella of suspicion" soon after the 1996 slaying — portrayed the document release as a vindication of their investigation.
"The grand jury of 12 objective jurors ultimately agreed with investigators that probable cause existed for the filing of charges," the department said in a statement.
"Until this release, it was difficult to remain silent in reference to our knowledge of the true bills for so many years," Police Chief Mark Beckner said in a statement on Friday.
The Ramseys' lawyer, L. Lin Wood called the unsealing of just four pages of the grand jury record a "miscarriage of justice" and noted that the panel did not have the benefit of DNA evidence that cleared the couple years later.
"John and Patsy Ramsey were not involved in her murder," he told NBC News after the document release.
A grand jury spent more than a year hearing evidence before the issued the charges, which were sealed after the Boulder district attorney announced there wasn't enough evidence to charge anyone.
A Boulder Daily Camera newspaper reporter convinced a judge to unseal the indictment. Four pages out of 18 identified for possible release were made public on Friday.
Reuters contributed to this report.