Governor Owens Press Conference - October 27, 1999

Breaking News
Gov. Owens Will Not Seek Special Prosecutor in Ramsey Case
Aired October 27, 1999 - 3:33 p.m. ET


GOV. BILL OWENS, COLORADO: This is not a decision that I take lightly. Law enforcement in Colorado is primarily a function of locally elected district attorneys. Only rarely does a governor take over a criminal case from a district attorney, though my predecessor, Governor Roy Romer, did exactly that, when a special prosecutor brought a conviction in a child abuse case. In other instances, including the 1981 case of serial murder Angelo Bouno, the famous hillside strangler, a governor called for a special prosecutor in California, and that prosecutor brought the conviction.

To help me weigh these competing considerations, I've asked a team of seven legal experts, including experienced prosecutors from both political parties, including the attorney general of the state of Colorado, my own chief legal counsel, former chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, to help me review the law and the evidence in this case. My decision reflects their advice, as well as well as conversations I've had with many other persons connected with this case.

But let me stress that the decision I am about to announce is mine and mine alone. In approaching the Ramsey case, only one question has guided me, and that is whether or not the appointment of a special prosecutor at this stage of the investigation will bring the killers of JonBenet Ramsey to justice. Ladies and gentlemen, any unsolved crime of violence tears at the very fabric of our society, but none more so than be the murder of a child. This particular case presents a special threat to the public's respect for our criminal justice system. The killers in this case made some very serious mistakes, but they're also very smart. They have stonewalled effectively and they've covered their tracks well.

And the legal burden that a prosecution must satisfy proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a difficult standard to meet in this case at this time. Add to this the very fact that from the very first day the Ramsey tragedy has been subjected to an almost unprecedented amount of media coverage.

In the face of this media blitz, the initial handling of the Ramsey case certainly failed to inspire public confidence. As someone who was watching the case from the outside, what I sense then I now know to be true; The conduct of the initial Ramsey investigation was far from perfect.

We may never know if any of these initial mistakes were serious enough to affect the outcome of this case. Yet there can be little doubt that the Ramsey case will be harder to prove in court because of the way it was initially handled. As I said, these problems threaten to damage the effort to bring JonBenet's killers to justice.

Fortunately, district attorney Hunter changed course dramatically last year. He recruited three highly respected prosecutors from outside the Boulder district attorney's office, Michael Kane, Mitch Morrissey and Bruce Levin, to advise him on the case. This move was far more than symbolic; it reformed and redeemed the investigation. Far from being merely advisers the team of Kane, and Morrissey and Levin took charge of the Ramsey case in a way that gave hope to fellow prosecutors and police alike. In the months since Alex Hunter recruited them, Mike Kane, Mitch Morrissey and Bruce Levin have effectively served as special prosecutors in this case, but they and district attorney Hunter have assured me that they will continue on this case.

The grand jury phase of this investigation is now complete. But let me emphasize that a grand jury is just one of many tools that will be used to gather evidence in this case. Under Colorado law, the prosecution can bring charges at any time without the need of a grand jury indictment.

During my own review of the Ramsey case, I've learned that substantial new evidence, including evidence that did not originate in the grand jury proceedings, is presently being analyzed and will continue to be analyzed by the prosecution team. I will not comment on the nature of that evidence, either now or in the future. I will say this, that I believe that the right people are now working on the Ramsey case, and they're finally working together as a team. Based on the evidence of available to me, they are targeting the right murder suspects.

For these reasons and with the unanimous support of my legal advisory team, I have decided not to appoint a special prosecutor at this time. Moving forward, the state of Colorado will continue to support the ongoing investigation. Should circumstances change, I will reassess the need for a special prosecutor at that time.

Finally, to the killers of JonBenet Ramsey, let me say this: You only think you have gotten away with murder. There is strong evidence to suggest who you are. I believe that investigators are moving closer to proving their case. They will keep pursuing you. And I'm confident that each day brings us closer to the day when you will reap what you have sown.

Thank you, and I'd be glad to take any questions.

QUESTION: Governor, a couple time you mentioned "killers," plural. Is that something to be read into that?

OWENS: I think that based on my understanding of the case, there's a reasonable belief that there was more than one person involved.

QUESTION: Governor -- I'm sorry. If you could speak to the family of JonBenet Ramsey today, right now, what would you say to them?

OWENS: If I could speak to John and Patsy Ramsey, I'd tell them to quit hiding behind their attorneys, quit hiding behind their PR firm, come back to Colorado, work with us to find the killers in this case, no matter where that trail may lead.

QUESTION: Governor, given that, the grand jury had the subpoena powers to call the Ramseys here, to force them to come here, and yet they didn't use that. I mean, did your review of the case shed any light on why that that didn't happen and why they should come back voluntarily when they weren't even subpoenaed?

OWENS: All of the parties involved with the grand jury were very careful not to pierce the veil of grand jury secrecy. We did not ask that question nor would it have been answered.

QUESTION: Governor, are you saying there's a reasonable belief that more than one person is involved? You're also saying the Ramseys should stop hiding behind their attorneys.

It's well-known that at least Patsy Ramsey was a target of the grand jury investigation. Aren't you implicitly saying John and Patsy Ramsey, in your view, are in all likelihood responsible?

OWENS: No comment.

QUESTION: Governor, you said that you're convinced that the investigators are targeting the right murder suspects. Would that lead us to believe that the specific identity of these people is known to the investigators?

OWENS: I think the specific identity of the suspects is certainly known to the investigators.

QUESTION: Has that changed in the last couple of years or is the identity the same as they were a couple of years ago?

OWENS: You know, you'd have to talk to the prosecutors about that. Yes.

QUESTION: You cited the mistakes made at the onset of the investigation. Were they such that you believe that we probably never will see a conviction?

OWENS: No, I wouldn't suggest that we probably will never achieve a conviction. I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic, but in fact, it's a difficult case. While there's a lot of evidence that points in a certain direction, as I mentioned in my remarks, the effort to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in these sorts of felony cases is a difficult standard to meet.

QUESTION: Some have -- some think that you should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the investigation, to look into the conduct of the police, detectives. Did you ever consider that?

OWENS: No, I don't think anything beneficial would come at this time from that sort of investigation. What I'd like to do is try and be as helpful as I can in terms of keeping the attention in this case directed at solving the case, not second-guessing what happened three years ago.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Governor Owens, to what extent were the Boulder authorities able to share with you what the actually evidence is in this case? Were they able to talk about it at all?

OWENS: Yes. It's a good question. They were able to share with us virtually every piece of evidence except that which came forth in the grand jury. They were very open, both the police officials, the detectives as well as the prosecutors, were very open with me and my team.

We were sworn to secrecy. And I believe we were privy to most of the important evidence absent that evidence that might have been gathered in the grand jury.

QUESTION: Governor...


OWENS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) was your decision based on the potential expense of continuing this, having said that you didn't have access to the grand jury?

OWENS: You know, it really wasn't. The question is, as I'm sure you were able to hear, was the expense in this case a consideration. If I thought that by spending another million dollars or $2 million and by appointing a special prosecutor we could get the evidence that would be necessary to bring indictments in this case, I think it would be money well-spent.

And I understand the resources that have gone into this case versus other murder cases. But I don't think at this point the problems reflect a lack of resources.

The prosecution and the detective teams have had 65 different laboratories and consultants involved in this case. While certainly there were significant problems at the start of the investigation, as both Mr. Hunter and the Boulder police chief would -- would agree, at this time, I'm really convinced that the police and the district attorney are working well together. And it's best to leave them to go on rather than stop them at this point, start over with a new prosecutor.

QUESTION: Governor...


QUESTION: Governor, was the advice from your (OFF-MIKE)?

OWENS: Yes, it was.

QUESTION: Governor Owens...


QUESTION: How strong is the new evidence that you refer to, and the evidence (OFF-MIKE) just to clarify this is not evidence that came, that was unearthed during the grand jury?

OWENS: That's correct. It was not evidence that was unearthed during the grand jury investigation. And I wouldn't want to characterize the evidence any further.

QUESTION: Governor, you had strong words for the Ramseys. Why?

OWENS: I have thought that they should have helped in this case more than they have. And while in our system they are innocent until proven guilty, as a parent, as the father of a youngster who is the same age as JonBenet, I think that they could have and should have been more helpful than they have been.

And so, that is the reason for those words.

QUESTION: Apparently, the Boulder police and prosecutors shared with you who is under the umbrella of suspicion. Are there more than two people?

OWENS: I can't comment on that.

QUESTION: Governor, do you -- first, you said the killers have stonewalled and then you've said the Ramseys have stonewalled. Can we take any conclusions from that?

OWENS: No comment.

QUESTION: Governor, the only thing that anybody seems to want to know is who is the target of the investigation. Why can't that be told to us?

OWENS: I'd have to let the prosecutors tell you who the target of the investigation is.

QUESTION: After three years and a grand jury with is subpoena power hasn't been able to solve this case, why should the public or the killers, who you addressed, reasonably believe that it ever will be?

OWENS: You know, cases like this break many times for different reasons. One of the people involved may decide to talk. Somebody else who has knowledge may decide to talk. New technologies become available to check things like DNA. Lots of things happen where cases may go three, four, five, six, even 10 years, where because there's no statute of limitations on murder in this state, I don't believe this case will ever be closed.

And so I can't tell you that six months or a year from now or two years from now there will be an indictment in this case.

My involvement in it has been fairly simple.

Are the people working on the case right now the best people to continue working on it, or would justice be better served by having the state step in and in many respects start over with a new prosecutor?

I'm very satisfied that that course would in fact at this point hinder the furtherance of justice in this case, that the best way to continue this investigation is to accept the fact that there were mistakes made at the start and then to look at the prosecution team and the detectives in the Boulder police force that's now working on it. And I think that they're the best people to continue at this point in time.

QUESTION: Governor Owens, could you clarify one small point. You said about the new evidence. Was that new evidence that was developed since the grand jury that was dismissed or evidence that was held back from presentation to the grand jury?

OWENS: Can't comment on that. Again, I have to be very careful. I understand the interest in this case. But my primary role today is to let you know that I'm not going to be appointing a special prosecutor.

A secondary role is to make sure that I don't say anything that would in any respects hinder a future prosecution and future investigation.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

OWENS: Thanks.

BATTISTA: We have been listening to Colorado Governor Bill Owens, who announced just a few moments ago that he will not appoint a special prosecutor in the JonBenet Ramsey case.

CNN's Greg LaMotte was in that news conference, and he'll be joining us in just a few short moments. But first, let's talk to CNN legal analysts Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack for some reaction to that.

I can tell you guys that there was a collective groan from this audience when the governor was asked about the fact that he had a reasonable believe that there was more than one suspect in this case and that he also felt Patty and John Ramsey should come back to Colorado to help in this investigation -- and if there was an inference between those two statements, and the governor said no comment.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Bobbie, worse than that, at least from my perspective, when he admitted that he had strong words to the Ramseys, he then made a reference to the fact that they are innocent until proven guilty. What that does in essence is strip away the chance that if these two are ever charged -- and they certainly have not been charged -- away a chance that they can get a fair trial.

No matter who they are, they're entitled to a fair trial. When you're the governor of the state coming out and saying those fighting words almost, you know, it really does strip away constitutional rights to which they're entitled.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not so sure, Bobbie, that constitutional rights have been stripped away. But I am forced into agreeing with Greta. I thought the governor did step over the line.

I mean, at the beginning, I think he did everything but for come out and say, I think the Ramseys did it, we just don't have enough evidence: talking about multiple killers and then getting a little coy at the end with no comment.

I don't think it was necessary for him to go that far. There obviously is a concern about a fair trial. I -- and really, when you think about it, he didn't say very much. What he said was, "We're not appointing a special prosecutor. We have confidence in the prosecutors." And apparently, whatever the evidence is there's not enough to get an indictment.

BATTISTA: Well, people...

VAN SUSTEREN: One little tip-off though, Bobbie, that he did say is he said there's substantial new evidence being analyzed. I don't know what that substantial new evidence is being analyzed, but it certainly has piqued my interest.

BATTISTA: Yes. And I think a lot of people are wondering why -- if the governor was so convinced of guilt going in a certain direction, why the grand jury didn't act?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that's simple. Because the grand jury heard a lot more information. I think what the governor said is he didn't hear what the grand jury did. You know, the grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret. He's not the prosecutor assigned to the case, but there once again goes to bolster my argument how the governor went way too far, overstepped his duty here, and whether or not the Ramseys are being treated fairly. I mean, they are simply at this point perhaps targets, but they certainly have not been charged with anything, and they're entitled to fairness, not the governor coming out and poisoning the audience.

COSSACK: Bobbie, the real issue is whether or not they can get a conviction, and that -- you know, it's one thing to get an indictment before a grand jury, which requires probable cause, which is a very, very low standard. But the question really is whether or not they have enough evident to take them to trial, or take anybody to trial and get a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. And that's a tough standard, and once you lose that one -- if you lose that one, that's the end of the ballgame, there's no more trials at least for the people that were on trial.

So, you know, what is the better course here? The better course is to see if they get better evidence down the road, and if they find somebody they think they can convict that's what they will do. But, you know, the grand jury was right. I mean, look, if they indict somebody and go to trial and they lose it, that's the end.

BATTISTA: All right.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I think it's important though to point out is that the grand jury, at least from what we are hearing -- and again these are leaks, we don't know -- grand juries are supposed to secret -- is they heard an awful lot of information; information the rest of us simply don't have. So it's really unfair for us to start passing judgment on what the grand jury did or didn't do, or why they did whatever they did or didn't do, because we don't have what they had.
BATTISTA: Let me have you two stand by if we will.

And I will bring Greg LaMotte now into the conversation. He's been covering this trial for quite some time and was just at that news conference -- Greg.

GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bobbie, I don't think it comes as much of a surprise to anyone that the governor decided not to appoint a special prosecutor. Keep in mind that all of the prosecutors involved in presenting evidence to the now-ended grand jury were in unanimous agreement that there just wasn't enough evidence to bring charges against anyone. This was the advice that the governor and his panel of experts have gotten.

The governor also spoke with the police chief about the investigation, and he also spoke with members of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation before deciding not to appoint a special prosecutor. I think what did come as somewhat of a surprise is his strong words for John and Patricia Ramsey about asking them to quit hiding behind their attorneys and their PR firm and come forward and help in the investigation -- Bobbie.

BATTISTA: Greg, the governor indicated that there might be new evidence in this case. Have you heard anything more about that?

LAMOTTE: Only that the governor announced that there was new evidence that was being worked on, forensic evidence, it sounded like test results needed to come back on this new evidence, as he put it. He said he hoped that it would shed some light on who the killer or killers of JonBenet Ramsey might have been. But all we are being told now is that there is new evidence that wasn't presented to the grand jury that just concluded and that the investigation will continue, and presumably this new evidence that he mentioned may help shed light in this case.

BATTISTA: Greta and Roger, quickly, what would a special prosecutor have added to this case at all had he decided to go that route? VAN SUSTEREN: I think absolutely nothing, Bobbie, because what happened in this particular case is that Alex Hunter actually went out and hired very good prosecutors from Adams County, from Denver. He got Michael Kane from Pennsylvania. Alex Hunter had already done this, so it would have been simply redundant.

COSSACK: All the governor was looking into with the special prosecutor, Bobbie, was to see whether or not we needed a new -- or Colorado needed a new prosecutor, because Alex Hunter and his staff, you know, didn't do a very good job. And what he found was that Alex Hunter did do a very good job. They simply just don't have the evidence.

BATTISTA: And, Greg, this investigation now goes where from this point?

LAMOTTE: Well, the investigation will stay with the Boulder Police Department and the district attorney's office in Boulder, and as you heard the governor mention, he felt that he was leaving it in very capable hands both with the police and the d.a.'s office there.

BATTISTA: All right. Greg LaMotte in Boulder, thank you very much for joining us. Greta and Roger, our thanks to you as well. And our thanks to our previous guests on the show before we went to the news conference. Thank you for joining us. Back again tomorrow at 3:00 Eastern for more