Colorado authorities on Friday unsealed a grand jury indictment prepared in 1999 against the parents of slain child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, a document that was never signed by a prosecutor who decided against bringing charges.
The papers show the grand jury voted to charge John and Patsy Ramsey with child abuse resulting in death and accessory to first-degree murder in the 1996 death of their 6-year-old daughter, a crime that has long captivated much of America.
Then-Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to sign the indictment or prosecute the Ramseys, citing a lack of evidence. In 2008, another Boulder County prosecutor cleared the couple of any involvement in JonBenet's murder, which remains unsolved to this day.
The four pages unsealed by Colorado authorities following a court order offered little insight into the grand jury's thinking, containing only the bare charges with no supporting facts. A court spokesman said nothing more would be released.
The prepared charges accuse both Ramseys of assisting someone who committed murder to avoid apprehension, prosecution and conviction, but do not identify that person.
A spokeswoman for current Boulder County District Attorney Stanley Garnett, who fought release of the documents, declined comment on Friday, saying the prosecutor would issue a statement on Sunday in the form of a newspaper editorial.
Hunter, who retired as Boulder's top prosecutor in 2000, could not be reached for comment by Reuters on Friday.
During his time in office, Hunter did not disclose that the grand jury had voted to indict the Ramseys, which became public when it was reported by the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper earlier this year. The indictments were ordered unsealed by a judge following a lawsuit by a Daily Camera reporter and press advocacy group.
The Boulder Police Department said in a written statement that its investigators felt at the time that probable cause existed to file charges in the case and were disappointed in Hunter's decision not to issue indictments.
"As a result, the opportunity to present the entire case to a jury may be lost forever," the department said. "We also understand the criteria for taking a case to trial is higher than probable cause."
Boulder Police said the now cold case "remains open, but is not actively being pursued because there are no new leads."
John Ramsey also opposed the release of the court papers and said that if the proposed charges were made public they should include the entire grand jury record.
"It is also extremely important that one keep in mind that the document to be released is a mere snippet of the case that may be of historical interest, but does not take into account the conclusive DNA testing in 2008 which led to the public exoneration of the Ramsey Family by the Boulder District Attorney," John Ramsey's attorney, Lin Wood, told Reuters.
Early on the morning of December 26, 1996, Patricia Ramsey reported JonBenet missing, telling police that she had found a ransom note asking $118,000 for her daughter's safe return.
That afternoon in the basement of their home, John Ramsey discovered JonBenet's body covered by a blanket, a cord around her neck, her wrists bound and duct tape over her mouth. An autopsy showed she had died from strangulation and a skull fracture.
The grim case touched off a media frenzy, fuelled in part by controversy over JonBenet's participation in child beauty pageants.
Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006 at the age of 49.