For years after that chilling December day, John says he and his family were hounded by tabloid reporters. "The media was cruel. ... It was a rush to judgment or almost a cyberspace lynching," John says. "What we learned was there's certainly a very responsible part of the media, and there's certainly a very irresponsible part of the media—a very reckless part."
Despite negative press, JonBenet's mother held out hope that the real killer would be captured. Sadly, in June 2006, Patsy died after a long battle with ovarian cancer. At that time, she and her husband were still widely perceived as suspects in their little girl's murder.
In the summer of 2008, breaking news put the Ramsey family back in the headlines. John, his late wife, and their son, Burke, were formally exonerated by Mary Lacy, the Boulder, Colorado, district attorney. She cited new DNA evidence that cleared the family of any involvement in JonBenet's death.
"We knew there was DNA all along. The police didn't really pay attention to it," John says. "When the district attorney took the case over, they did pay attention."
John says detectives were able to extract a few DNA samples from JonBenet's pajamas back in 1996. Thanks to new technology called "touch DNA," officers were able to find more of the same DNA on other parts of her clothing. "It was overwhelmingly conclusive that this was, indeed, the killer's DNA," he says.
After announcing the latest developments in one of the most infamous unsolved murder cases in history, the Boulder district attorney wrote a letter to John and his family. Part of the letter said: "To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I'm deeply sorry. No innocent person should have to endure such an extensive trial in the court of public opinion."
John says after hearing the statement he did feel a certain sense of relief. "It felt like progress," he says.
Though Patsy didn't live long enough to be formally exonerated, John says she never dwelt on false reports and public suspicions. "Patsy was a very strong person, a very positive person," he says.
After JonBenet's murder, John says they did allow themselves to grieve, but they soon realized it was important to move on for the sake of their son, Burke, who was 9 years old at the time. "You have to move on. The loss of a child leaves a hole in your heart that doesn't heal, and you're a changed person, but you have other children," he says. "We have other children we love dearly, and that's our reason to go on and take each day at a time."
Despite trying to put the past behind them, John says he and Patsy always held out hope that JonBenet would get justice. "Any time we traveled, [Patsy] took a blue dress with her. The blue dress was in case they found the killer, and if she was asked to be interviewed, she could wear her blue dress," John says. "She lived believing they were going to find the killer."
Crime novelists, detectives and many average Americans have theories about who killed JonBenet. John reveals what he thinks happened the night his daughter was murdered.
"We believe they came in while we were out, waited for us to go to bed ... and took JonBenet from her room," he says. "I've always said I don't know anybody this evil, or I've not had anybody around me this evil. This was a horribly evil act."
Over the years, John says people have emerged as potential suspects...some who even seemed to be "the one." In 2006, John Mark Karr, a teacher from Georgia, made headlines when he confessed to killing JonBenet. However, DNA evidence failed to place him at the scene of the crime.
When John heard about Karr's claims, he says he was hopeful but not convinced. "We had had other people confess," he says.
In the beginning, John says he accepted that he and his family were suspects but pleaded with detectives to pursue other leads. "I told the police, 'Okay, investigate us, but for heaven's sakes, don't stop with us.' And of course they did, and that was the frustrating part."
The media's portrayal of JonBenet as a beauty pageant princess has also caused frustration for the Ramsey family. "That's not what she was," John says. "She was a 6-year-old little girl who loved to do lots of different things. ... It became a tag line that all media attaches to her name now, which I just don't think is a fair representation of who she really was."
What most people don't know is that JonBenet also took violin, piano and rock-climbing lessons. "Patsy had a philosophy of letting our kids experience whatever they wanted to do," John says. "JonBenet wanted to try [pageants], and she was an extreme extrovert and she loved to sing."
John says Patsy was criticized in the press for dragging JonBenet to beauty pageants, but it was quite the opposite. "Patsy also was someone who, if you're going to do it, let's do it right, and they did," John says. " They just had fun with it."
Though she says the family rarely discusses the murder, Pam, Patsy's sister, has her own thoughts about what happened to her niece.
"My theory has not changed since day one, and now that we all know the truth that John and Patsy were not involved, I can openly say that when you live in the kind of lifestyle that they were living—high dollar, lots of travel, lots of success—that also puts you out there to be the target of a lot of jealousy," she says. "I truly believe that the perpetrators of this crime were in that house not only on that night, but on previous nights. ... I think it's somebody that knows [John], that was terribly jealous and wanted to bring them down."
While John thinks this could be a possibility, he believes there was a more sinister motivating factor. "I know others who have looked at it that have experience who think it was a pedophile," he says.
Since losing a child, John has made it his mission to get DNA laws changed across the country. He says every state should pass a law that requires DNA printing for anyone arrested on felony charges.
"Fingerprinting started back in the '30s, and it's a coarse technology. DNA is a very precise technology, and we need to use it as an investigative tool," he says. "I think it will exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty."
John believes these new laws can help save lives. "Premeditated criminals don't just do one crime and then go back to a normal life," he says. "Crimes of that nature are done repeatedly, and so the quicker we can get those people off the streets, the more lives and pain we'll save."
So far, 12 states have passed this law, John says. To encourage your state senators and governor to support DNA legislation, John suggests writing a letter or sending an e-mail.
Though John has suffered great loss and heartache during his lifetime, he says the reaction he received from strangers was heartwarming. "People would stop us on the street and give us hugs and apologize for what's being done. We came through this with this great appreciation for our fellow man's willingness to reach out and hurt when other people are hurting," he says. "It really opened my eyes to that, as well as [being] a human being."
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