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‘JonBenét’s Mother: Victim or Killer?’ paints Patsy Ramsey as innocent

Erin Jensen
USA TODAY
Patsy Ramsey with her husband, John, during an interview on May 1, 1997.

JonBenét’s Mother: Victim or Killer?, which aired Saturday on Lifetime, might silence some lingering suspicions that the late Patsy Ramsey killed her daughter, JonBenét.

The special is the latest in a slew of programming that popped up as the 20th anniversary of the death of the young pageant star, which became, and still is a media sensation. In September, CBS joined in the anniversary brouhaha, not so casually pointing the finger at Ramsey's son, Burke.

Since the morning of Dec. 26, 1996, when Ramsey reported her six-year-old missing in a frantic call to 911, her actions, testimonies, and even handwriting have been thoroughly analyzed for proof that she took the life of her striking daughter whose blonde curls are burned into our memories.

True to its title, the documentary first presented evidence that could raise skepticism about Ramsey's behavior.

Though the ransom note said, “Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded,” Ramsey phoned 911 and then her friends and pastor were invited to the house. Fred Patterson, a former detective with Boulder Police Department, acknowledged the number of people at the Ramsey residence hindered the investigation and said there were no signs of forced entry. Patterson also noted similarities between Ramsey’s handwriting and the ransom note.

Does Lifetime's 'Who Killed JonBenét?' go too far?

Jeffrey Shapiro, a former investigative journalist for the Globe, believed police were on the right track when investigating the Ramseys. When analyzing the ransom note, he highlighted the verbiage, “We respect your bussiness (sic)," which he said was indicative that the writer was careful not to tarnish John Ramsey’s business. He also reported that some believed the note’s signature “S.B.T.C.,” stood for “Saved By The Cross,” a tie to Ramsey’s strong faith.

Furthermore, Shapiro said while getting her blood drawn as part of the investigation, Ramsey randomly announced she did not kill her child, which made people suspicious. Ramsey’s interest in acting was also explored, raising the possibility that her appearances and interviews may have been fake.

Jeffrey Shapiro

As to how Ramsey committed the crime, Shapiro said the theory presented by Detective Steve Thomas, alleged Ramsey became enraged, snapped and hit JonBenét with an object or pushed her into a surface causing the skull injury and what occurred after was done to make her death look like a cover-up.

But, the second part of the documentary proceeded to debunk theories that Ramsey was involved with her daughter’s death.

Dr. Leon Kelly, a forensic pathologist, said evidence suggested JonBenét was alive when the rope was placed around her neck and tightened with the makeshift garrote made from the end of Ramsey's paintbrush. Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht believed the blow to the head occurred when she was already dead or dying.

“We can scientifically eliminate this theory,” Dr. Wecht said, “that Patsy Ramsey killed her daughter because she lost her mind in a split second and struck the girl with tremendous force on the top of the head. That is absurd.“

By interviewing John's former teachers, girlfriends, and classmates, Shapiro was able to eliminate the theory that Ramsey covered up JonBenét's death which occurred while being sexually abused by her father.

Members of the Boulder Sheriff's Department stand guard outside the Ramsey home on Dec. 27, 1996.

The documentary also mentioned Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy's apology to the Ramseys made in 2008. In a statement, Lacy reported that DNA which did not belong to any member of the family was found on JonBenét’s long johns and matched the DNA found inside her underwear. Lacy was confident that this DNA belonged to JonBenét’s killer, but experts who recently reviewed the DNA analysis results believe the findings could be a composite of multiple people and possibly due to “inconsequential contact with other people,” as the Boulder Daily Camera reported.

As the special relied heavily on expert interpretation, and the facts from JonBenét's autopsy speak more to the order of events rather than exonerating Ramsey, it seems highly unlikely that the special will eliminate all suspicion of Ramsey — especially in light of the interpretation of DNA results being questioned. What the documentary does well, by interviewing friends of Ramsey, is show her as a caring mother and point out the lack of a substantial motive Ramsey would have for killing her child.