Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder of JonBenet Ramsey

The Death of Innocence

Book cover: The Death of Innocence
Book cover: The Death of Innocence

In the midst of threatening legal action and attempting to counter adverse public opinion, John and Patsy Ramsey made the somewhat untimely announcement that they had signed a book deal with a Nashville-based company that specializes in religious books. In a prepared statement, the Ramseys stated that they had decided that it was time to write the book, to be titled The Death of Innocence, so they could fully explain their side of the story and make the world aware of their innocence and their faith in God. John Ramsey told a news conference, "We have patiently waited for the justice process to evolve in the matter of our daughter's death. We have remained silent while baseless and slanderous accusations about our family were made by the frenzied media. The time is appropriate to recount our experiences in this tragedy."

Amidst growing criticism and accusations that they were "cashing in" on their daughter's death, the Ramseys announced that any proceeds from the sale of the book would go towards their legal fees and the JonBenet Ramsey Children's Foundation, which the couple established to "help children grow spiritually."

Within days of the book announcement, the Ramseys were again in the news when it was revealed that they had hired L. Lin Wood, a prominent Atlanta libel attorney. Wood, confirming the appointment, stated, "John and Patsy Ramsey are probably the most convicted individuals in recent history who have never been charged with any crime. They're not murderers," he says. "I'm sure of that."

He told reporters that he wouldn't have taken the case if he had thought the Ramseys were guilty, and stated that he is paid on a contingency basis, earning a percentage of any legal settlement won. Wood says the Ramseys have been seriously libeled in the nation's media and he'll begin with a civil suit against The Star supermarket weekly on behalf of the Ramsey's 12-year-old son, Burke. The Star's front page on May 25, 1999, ran a story under the headline "JonBenet Was Killed by Brother Burke." The paper later printed a retraction.

Wood acknowledged that the Ramseys and their lawyers damaged their credibility by "stage managing" their contact with the media. "A criminal defense lawyer's job is to insulate his client before a criminal investigation. Unfortunately when doing so, that client loses the ability to fight back against the accusations of the media," he said.

Wood wasn't shy in accusing Governor Owens of lying over the governor's statement that the Ramseys hadn't cooperated with the authorities. "Part of the Ramseys' problem," Wood says, "is that sensational newspapers like The Star, The Globe, the National Enquirer and others are afforded the same First Amendment protections as The New York Times and The Washington Post. You're talking about people who will spend any amount of money as long as there's money to be made," he says.

Star attorney Dori Ann Hanswirth in defending the publication, said, "The Star is an ethical publication that is entitled to all the protections of the First Amendment."

One of Wood's main criticisms of the media was the accusation that the Ramseys have been "acting strangely" after their daughter's murder. Wood himself has had personal experience with sudden loss. "I discovered my mother's body when I was 16 years old," he says. "There was no guidebook to tell me how to look and react in what I experienced. If you think they didn't act right, my advice would be to refrain from that kind of judgment until you've walked in their shoes."

He cited his own struggles after his mother's death. "You just hope you make the right decisions," he says. "But if you don't, you hope that you will be understood and forgiven." Wood believes what happened to the Ramseys could happen to anyone.

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