Thursday, May 11, 2000


Editor & Publisher's Interview with John Ramsey
by Jim Moscou

Collectively, it is a jarring claim, with the promise of more to come. On May 8 and 9, John and Patsy Ramsey, on behalf of their 13-year-old son,Burke, filed four libel lawsuits claiming a total of $54,750,000 in actual and punitive damages for stories published about the young boy.

Served were some of the country's most renowned and largest media organizations: the New York Post, Time Warner's, Texas publisher Windsor House Publishing Group, and the supermarket tabloid Globe.

All of the lawsuits argue the stories published by the organizations were false and libelous by suggesting Burke murdered his six-year-old sister, JonBenet, and, in some accounts, sexually molested her. The family's attorney adds that these filings are just the beginning of the Ramseys' courtroom efforts to exact revenge against media that has abused its journalistic responsibility and the Ramsey family name. The motive, they say, is profit.

Of the four cases, the largest lawsuit was filed against the Globe, where the family asks for $35 million in actual and punitive damages for a November 1998 story:

GLOBE November 24, 1998
say crime investigators
And Burke will NEVER stand trial!

The roots of Burke's case for libel rests in the months following his sister's murder in December 1996, when the boy — then nine years old — was publicly deemed by Boulder authorities as a witness, not a suspect. Still, in the three years JonBenet's murder has remained unsolved,

Burke remains the focus of articles in the tabloid and mainstream press suggesting he may have played a role in his sister's killing. Media speculation of Burke's involvement culminated in a May 1999 headline in the tabloid Star:

STAR, May 25, 1999
Ramseys In Top Secret
Plea Bargain Talks
as evidence shows…
—Heartbreaking story inside

The story was quickly picked up by the mainstream press. And a few weeks later, in a rare public statement by investigators to help mitigate the indicting headlines, Burke was definitively cleared by Boulder authorities of any wrongdoing. The Star soon after retracted the story with a front-page apology.

In November 1999, the Ramseys sued the Star for the May 1999 coverage, asking for $25 million in actual and punitive damages. The case was settled in March 2000 for an undisclosed amount. But that was not the end story.

Following the May 1999 Star headline, and before Boulder authorities cleared the young boy, the New York Post and staff writers covered the tabloid's account, and gave Burke's possible culpability a credible nod. Those stories are now at the heart of the family's lawsuits against those publications. Both ask for $4 million in punitive and actual damages. The family is also suing Windsor House Publishing for $11,750,000, claiming accusations in the 1998 book, "A Little Girl's Dream? A JonBenet Ramsey Story," of Burke's involvement in the murder and sexual abuse of his sister were libelous.

L. Lin Wood, the family's libel attorney, says another salvo of libel lawsuits will be fired within six to eight months on behalf of Burke's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. The family and their attorney add they are prepared to try and exact a fiscal revenge against individuals and media that have treated them unfairly and are blunt about their future legal agenda. They are ready and eager to summon for themselves the "Civil Trial of John and Patsy Ramsey."

On the list of prospective targets, they say, is Denver Post columnist Chuck Green, Colo. Governor Bill Owens, Time-Warner's Court TV, former-Boulder detective and author of the best seller, "JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation" Steve Thomas, Denver radio talk-show host Peter Boyles, Geraldo Rivera, and others.

While numerous questions still swirl around JonBenet's murder, Editor & Publisher magazine asks John Ramsey only about the motives behind these four libel lawsuits and the family's legal agenda. The interview was conducted by telephone today. Additional comments by John Ramsey, responses from the media defendants, and an analysis of the lawsuits will appear in the May 15, 2000 edition of Editor & Publisher magazine.

Q: Why instigate these lawsuits on behalf of Burke? He's a young boy, and may have to endure a long legal battle?

A: It is, I guess really two fold: One is to hold these people accountable for libeling another human being. But, more importantly, these people have libeled a nine-year-old child for profit. And that ought to outrage and disgust every American citizen. And I'm not going to sit back and say, 'Oh, well that's okay.' It's a tragedy and cancer in our society.

Q: Yet Burke's name and identity will just be perpetuated in the media, keeping him in the limelight. Why do that to him?

A: Because he's been perpetuated for three years as a murderer of his sister. And we're going to set the record right and the only way we know how. And that's through the courts.

Q: Litigation involving Burke could last for a while, and really get bogged down.

A: We're fully prepared to go years on it.

Q: For Burke's case?

A: For Burke.

Q: Hoping for a settlement instead?

A: I don't care about settlements. I want to hold these people accountable for the horrendous attack they've made on a child. Because it won't stop with Burke if we don't put a stop to it. It's very profitable for them. You have, you have to stand for something in life.

Q: Have you discussed this with Burke, that this is a stand?

A: Not in any great detail. Burke is a tough guy. This is his sister. This is something that he's, uh, uh, aware of; that he knows we are fighting for him. Absolutely.

Q: And that Lin Wood is fighting for him as well.

A: Yeah. The worst thing we can do is to ignore this. For three years, these low-lifes have slandered an innocent child for profit. I can't imagine anything more horrible that has taken place in the American media in my lifetime.

Q: The…

A: And we have to attack them where it counts, in the pocket book. They are in this for money pure and simple. It has nothing to do with journalism. It has nothing to do with good reporting. This has to do with money.

Q: Going after the Star a few months ago seemed like a calculated move. You got that settled and then you have the Post and coverage easily in your sites. Was that the strategy?

A: Yeah. Absolutely. The Star was the original article. And the Post and Time reprinted it (Editor's note: Both newspapers wrote independent stories recounting the Star's coverage). So it was a logical, strategic way to approach it.

Q: Any response from these defendants?

A: You'd have to ask Lin. I don't know. I know he's talked to their lawyers. But, uh, none that I'm aware of.

Q: Lin has said that (former Boulder detective and author) Steve Thomas and (his publisher) St. Martin's Press is now at the top of the list of people and media organizations that you intend to file on behalf of you and Patsy. True?

A: Certainly the top five. No question. That's another outrageous, bigger issue than just 'Patsy and John.' This is about a detective employed by the citizens of a community to fairly administer justice and he is now taking justice in his own hands trying to convict Patsy and I, I guess, in the media, all for profit. And that's a huge issue for the American society. People ought to be just aghast at that. And, again, if our lives are to account for something, we're going to account for this kinda crap. That it can't happen in America.

Q: That sounds like you've on a mission, after Thomas.

A: Yeah! This is bigger than dollar and sense and getting even. This is a tragedy in the American justice system. Steve Thomas ought to be a poster child for what is wrong with police in America.

Q: You say Thomas is number five. Is that a flippant number?

A: Oh. Yeah. I wouldn't say he's at the top of the list. That would be quite an honor (Ramsey laughs). He certainly has gotten into target range, let me put it that way. As Lin Wood says, we could keep a law school busy for the next few years.

Q: A top media lawyer told me earlier that one of the most significant problems in libel lawsuits is often the plaintiffs —in this case you and your wife — often dupe themselves and their lawyers into believing they have a case. How have you assured Lin you're not duping him?

A: Lin is working on a contingency fee. I told him if he thinks this is a winnable case, if he thinks any of these are winnable cases, you go for 'em. If you don't, forget 'em. There is only a few I would be interested in filing purely for setting the record straight.

Q: And which one's is that?

A: Oh, I think this woman Kimberly Ballard who said she was my mistress. An out-an-out lie. And to expect Lin to take that as a contingency fee would be ridiculous. But she was on national television saying she was my mistress. And how am I going to set the record straight other than to prove it in a court of law?

Q: Let me rephrase my earlier questions. How did you convince Lin you two are innocent?

A: I think, I think any reasonable person that looks at this comes to that conclusion pretty quickly.

Q: In six months, Lin Wood says he'll be filing libel lawsuits on behalf of you and Patsy. That's a very different fight than the one Burke is facing.

A: Um. They're probably a bit different. Yeah, but uh…

Q: It's the "Civil Trial" of you and your wife.

A: Well, that's a possibility. But perhaps that's the only way we can get a trial. And we certainly aren't afraid of that. But I think our objective here is to, uh — there is very fundamental principle that has been horribly violated by people in the media. And we can either choose to, you know, to go in a cave and ignore it, or stand up for something. And hopefully we can make a difference.

Q: Make a difference in journalism. That must seem a bit ironic to you.

A: Yeah (chuckles). I've been told it can't be done. But certainly in the arena of journalism that's purely focused on profit, and does things that have been done by people like the Globe, I don't know, hit 'em where it hurts. And hit them big.

Q: Like $35 million.

A: Hopefully that's big enough.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: I think, uh, the important thing is for us to be good examples for Burke. We've got to fight for what is right.

Q: Is that the motive here?

A: Certainly. And it's not always easy. This has been a horrible wrong.

Q: Was their relief in filing these suits?

A: Oh yeah. We've been anxious to get on with it. I'm glad to see we're making progress. There's a long -- lot's to go, as far as I'm concerned.

Q: What will the money be used if he wins or settles?

A: For Burke?

Q: Yeah.

A: He has a trust fund administered by my brother and for Burke's benefits.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: If you just look at the big picture, the American people would be just aghast at what happened in some of these situations, some of these people that are out there. It gets back to the principle. There are just huge principles that have been violated.

Q: Have your Denver (defense) attorneys told you not to pursue these lawsuits?

A: Well, yeah, a good defense attorney says lock yourself in a closet and don't come out. But this case and our situation has been taken to the court of public opinion three years ago by the Boulder police. And we tried to respect the justice system by not fighting it in the court of public opinion. And, we've had three years of arguments presented against us capped by Steve Thomas' articulation of the police theory in his book for profit. And we can't sit back forever and not recognize that this has been taken to the court of public opinion by the police and fight it. It's not right. It's not constitutional. But that's the hand we've been dealt.