Chapter 10, Presumed Guilty by Stephen Singular
In early May, I returned to the Boulder County Jail for another visit with the inmate I had questioned earlier. This time he gave me the names of several people who he claimed were involved in adult or child pornography. Through other sources, I was able to confirm that at least two of these individuals were, in fact, in the possession of extensive child pornography libraries. One of them, a lawyer, had left Boulder a few months prior to the murder. I tracked him down in another state. He denied that he had ever been connected to child pornography, but acknowledged that he knew local people who were. Another Boulder attorney admitted that he had clients who were engaged in child porn, but that he was ethically bound not to reveal their identities. A third person had once had an interest in taking risque photographs of teenagers, but had long since given up this pursuit.
One name in particular, however, was of more interest to me. Political activists in Boulder [Evan Ravitz and Dr. Robert McFarland] had previously identified him as a city employee who had had connections to pornography and perhaps child pornography. According to these sources, a number of years earlier, two municipal workers had found illicit sexual material and erotic toys in this manís desk [actually a box in his office]. Although female coworkers had previously alleged sexual harassment, none of them had initiated any legal action against him. Eventually, they were assigned to another office. According to city council members, Boulderís mayor Leslie Durgin, had at first wanted to fire the man, but after consulting with others, had decided not to. The incident was never made public, and the local newspaper, the Daily Camera, while aware of these events, did not carry the story because no one was willing to speak on the record. It was a scandal that never erupted.
Following my second meeting with the inmate, I returned to Alex Hunterís office at the Boulder County Justice Center. After passing along some information about Internet pornography and the names of local people I had been investigating, I brought up the story about the city employee. Hunter appeared taken aback by this, almost alarmed, and he expressed concern that something like this had gone on inside the municipal government. He seemed amazed that anything of this nature could have happened without his knowledge. Twice he asked me if I was talking about the same man whom he had known for many years, although he had not had much interaction with him. Twice I assured him that I was.
"If this got into the hands of certain people in the media," Hunter said, "it would further embarrass Boulder and make the town look worse than it already does. What are you going to do with this information?"
I explained that I was not really concerned with the manís sexual behavior and had no desire to publicize it unless it was somehow connected to the Ramsey case. What I was concerned with was whether Hunterís office planned to investigate the pornography leads we recently had been discussing.
Iím personally very interested in this angle," he said, "But we have other priorities. Itís on the list of things to do, but itís not even close to the top."
It had been very difficult, he said, to get the police to explore leads they did not want to explore, especially those that did not specifically concern the Ramsey family. Moreover, from the start of the case, his relationship with the Bolder Police Department had been shaky. Hunter surprised me by stating that John Eller, the commander in charge of the detectives investigating the murder, was "impossible to work with" in these circumstances. Eller, the D.A. declared, had long focused on only one thing: arresting John and Patsy Ramsey.
"The cops," Hunter said, "regard us as intruders in this situation. That makes everything tougher. I donít have enough to file a case against the Ramseys. The cops keep bringing me things and saying, ĎHow much is enough, how much is enough?í Weíre not there yet."
"Do you thing youíll get there soon?"
"I just donít know," he said with a deep frown.
The more I talked to Hunter, the more I saw him as the man in the middle of a huge, multifaceted vise. From one side, the police felt he was not doing his job because he was not ready to bring charges against the Ramseys Ėand the cops were leaking these sentiments to reporters. From another side, Hal Haddon and his legal juggernaut had absolutely no qualms about publicly flailing Hunter whenever they felt it served their purposes. From yet another side, Hunter was attacked daily on radio and TV shows for his perceived ineptitude (the press kept digging up cases unsuccessfully prosecuted by the D.A.ís office, starting with the murder of Sid Wells, the boyfriend of Robert Redfordís daughter, back in 1983). Finally the general population, through its participation on these talk shows, also viewed Hunter as a weak, ineffectual authority figure who could not get the job done, a job many of them felt was easy to carry out. As time went on, the vise from all sides tightened further around Hunter.
Although Hunter did not complain about his situation to me, I sensed that it was having a very real effect on him. He looked subdued, weighed down. His eyes were furtive, his voice had grown softer. It was almost as if, without even being aware of it, he had spent many years readying himself, or failing to ready himself, for a test that he could never quite have imagined would com. Now it had arrived and he had to muddle his way through it while suffering chastisements from every corner. He had to trust his own instincts and listen to himself rather than the ten thousand other loud voices that knew less than he did but were telling him what to do.
After I gave him the information I had obtained about child pornography and the Internet, Hunter leaned back in his chair and spread a legal pad across his lap, speculating about who had killed JonBenet Ramsey. Once again I was struck by the informality of his behavior and his willingness to share his ideas. He thought some of John Andrew Ramseyís fraternity brothers at the Chi Psi house at the university of Colorado may have gotten high Christmas night and, during an aborted attempt to kidnap JonBenet and make some easy money, accidentally killed her and then concocted the note as a cover-up.
After laying out this scenario, Hunter looked directly at me, awaiting my response.
For several moments, I said nothing. I was thinking about this unexpected angle. First of all, it didnít square with any of the current theories about the crime, including one of the very few solid facts in the case: that John Andrew Ramsey had been in Atlanta the night the girl was killed. Second, I had assumed that in the first month after the murder, both the Boulder cops and the scores of reporters covering the case had fully questioned the frat brothers; to my knowledge, no one had learned anything of substance from them. Third, if Hunterís scenario were accurate, some lesser participant might eventually have talked to and made a deal with the authorities in exchange for immunity from prosecution; that had not happened. Fourth, and most important, Hunter had not delivered this possibility to me with what I took to be real conviction. It almost seemed as if this were hat the D.A. wished had happened to JonBenet.
I wondered if something more was going on in the room, but what could that be?
"The frat boys might have been involved," I said without much enthusiasm. Hunter did not press the matter.
I then asked him if he had ever spoken to Pam Griffin, the local seamstress who, through her work on JonBenetís pageant dresses, had gotten to know Patsy and her daughter quite well. Hunter said he had not talked to her but indicated that it was also on his list of things to do.
"I think you should call her," I said.
* * *
Chapter 20, Presumed Guilty by Stephen Singular
If prosecuting drug cases had always been a sensitive issue in Boulder, pornography and especially child pornography were even more sensitive. Careers could be destroyed and families shattered. Americans who had been exposed for sexual peccadilloes had been known to commit suicide. Our national desire for instant gratification was equaled only by our need to condemn and punish those who actually pursued such things.
One morning I spoke to the employee who had worked for the local government some years earlier, when pornography and sex toys were discovered in his desk [actually a box in his office]. When he agreed to go into therapy, the matter stopped there.
Some Boulderites believed that Mayor Durgin had acted appropriately by giving this man another chance and not humiliating him or taking away his job. The very last thing the city had needed, they said, was the kind of negative publicity that such trouble could have generated. Others felt that by keeping this empl9yee in place Ė but in a badly compromised position now- the mayor and her allies could wield more power than before. Everyone agreed on one thing: Sex was a very dangerous political subject.
I had not told this man why I was coming to see him, and for twenty minutes or so, we made polite conversation while he reviewed his background and considerable professional achievements. I had heard that he was extremely intelligent, articulate, and proud of what he had accomplished during his long career as a municipal civil servant. I found him to be all of those things, and charming as well. I did not relish the idea of questioning him about the only blemish on his record, but I had heard this story so many times and from so many different people that it was only fair to question him about it myself and give him the chance to respond in private.
When I asked if he had known any of the Ramseys, or ever visited their home, he said that he had never even been aware of the family until the murder. When I asked if he knew any of the Ramseysí close friends, he also replied no. When I asked if he knew the police detectives working the case, or the attorneys in the D.A.ís office investigating the crime, r some other government employees, he denied having contact with any of these people, before or after the killing. He had lived in Boulder for almost two decades, and his last answer sounded hollow.
When I brought up the paraphernalia that had been found in hi desk he shifted in his chair and turned bright red. Speaking very slowly and carefully, he did not deny the event, but called it "a grotesque violation of my privacy." He repeatedly and emphatically stated that it had had no effect on his performance in office or on any decision he had ever made on the job.
"Some people believe that I was blackmailed back then by those in power in Boulder," he said, "but that ever, ever happened."
Then he asked me what I intended to do with this information about his past.
I said I was not sure
In a subtly pleading tone of voice, he asked me to handle it "with the greatest possible discretion."
"I have a family," he said. "That was a long time ago, and itís been over for many years. Iím sure you understand."
"Do you know anything," I asked, "about a pornography or child pornography ring operating in or around Boulder?"
He looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Yuuucck!"
"Is that a Ďnoí?"
"Yes, it is. Iíve never heard of anything like that. Is that what youíre investigating?"
"Among other things."
"Have you found any evidence of it?"
"Perhaps. You donít know anyone involved in these kinds of activities?"
"And you werenít involved in them yourself?"
He gazed at me, his cheeks still red. He looked afraid and very vulnerable.
"Absolutely not," he said.
I had accomplished what I set out to. A few minutes later I shook his hand and drove back to Denver, rather impressed by the fact that he had not tried to convince me that the allegation raised against him were totally false. He had essentially confirmed what I had heard about him.
That evening, he called me on the pretense of clarifying a detail he had mentioned about his career. He then brought up the Ramsey case. It was obvious that he wanted to continue our talk. Again he asked me to exercise "great caution" with the information we had discussed and not to cause him any further hurt or embarrassment.
Then he said something unexpected. "Are you suggesting," he asked, "that JonBenet Ramsey was killed during a child pornography session?"
This question surprised me because I had not, in fact, suggested this during our meeting.
"Itís a possibility," I said. "Why?"
"I was just wondering."
"Is it also what youíre thinking?"
"Iíve only thought about it since this morning. No one else has said anything like that to me since this whole thing started."
I hesitated, to see if he would continue.
"I enjoyed speaking with you," he said. "That was the most enlightening conversation Iíve ever had about this case."