Newcomers to this blog are advised to begin with the first two posts, Just the Facts, Ma'am and Case Solved, which explain in very general terms why I believe I've solved this case. Some important questions are answered in the following post, Misunderstandings, Misconceptions, Misdirections. After that feel free to browse whatever topics might interest you (see blog archive).

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Magical DNA

Over the years, as one by one various red herrings tossed out by "team Ramsey" were accounted for, they and their defenders took refuge on a single fragile, but in their minds secure, lifeboat: a few fragments of "foreign" male DNA found in JonBenet's panties, mixed with a spot of her blood, that couldn't be sourced to anyone in the family or the larger circle of friends, employees, etc. This was the perfect refuge, because the Ramseys could always claim this DNA was that of their daughter's killer, and so long as no source could be found, there was no way such a claim could be refuted, absolutely positively, with no possibility of "reasonable doubt."

What has often been overlooked in this case is the very real difference between any doubt at all, no matter how remote and unlikely, and doubt that is indeed reasonable, i.e., that can be reasonably maintained on the basis of normal common sense. There is probably no criminal case ever tried in which some element of doubt could not be raised, but in order for this to count in a court of law, the doubt must be deemed reasonable, i.e., not simply a legal maneuver deliberately concocted to sow confusion.

DNA evidence is almost always based on DNA extracted from identifiable human cells, e.g., blood cells, skin cells, saliva cells, sperm cells, etc. Such cells can be transferred from one person to another in all sorts of ways, both directly and indirectly. If one cannot either trace the circumstances by which the cells were transferred or identify their source, then the DNA evidence is essentially meaningless, since it could always have been transferred in a perfectly innocent manner. To make this point as forcefully as possible, I'll once again quote The Guardian, Jan 17, 2012, CSI Oxford: behind the scenes at Britain's top forensic lab:

Rigour, continuity, integrity of procedure are all. . . Because the thing about DNA evidence, strong as it is, large as it looms in the public's imagination, is that it connects a human and an object. It doesn't prove when the two came into contact. Nor does it necessarily prove they were actually in direct contact at all. "It's not just the finding of the evidence," says Ros Hammond, a senior scientific adviser who has worked on many high-profile cases. "It's how did it get there, and can we rule out any other way it did so? And what does it mean?" (My emphasis)
In the Ramsey case, the blood DNA that arguably played the crucial role in forestalling prosecution for so many years couldn't even be traced to a particular cell. No semen was found. No skin cells were found. No foreign cells of any kind were found. The fragments of foreign DNA had been mixed with the victim's blood, thus mixed with her DNA, and could be isolated only thanks to a recently developed, highly sophisticated and complex, methodology. No one had any idea where that DNA was from or how it could have gotten into her blood. Nevertheless, the Ramsey attorneys insisted this had to have originated from her attacker, and since no match was ever found (to this day), no DA felt safe in attempting an indictment.

Over time, other bits of DNA from inside the victims fingernails were examined (this turned out to be contaminated and was ultimately discounted) and further testing of the blood DNA led to the production of 10 markers (there were originally only 9), which made it available for inclusion in the FBI's CODIS database. Team Ramsey then assured us it was only a matter of time before CODIS came up with a match. Of course as we know, almost 16 years after the murder, no match has been found.

Even if a match did somehow emerge, there were only 10 markers, while a complete set is 13, meaning that a prosecution based solely on a DNA match would have been impossible in any case. The prosecutor would still have to offer additional evidence that this person had been in the house on that particular night. But what evidence could he possibly present? That the suspect once owned HiTec boots? That he owned a Maglite? That his palm print was identical to that of Melinda Ramsey's? That someone once saw him carrying some rope in a bag? Also how could the prosecutor prove that the DNA hadn't been transferred to JonBenet indirectly, through some completely innocuous connection? I'll have more to say on this possibility presently.

Even if his handwriting were matched to that of the note, a good lawyer would undoubtedly point to all the experts on record as convinced that Patsy and only Patsy could have written it. If Patsy hadn't written it after all, that meant the whole idea of using "experts" to identify handwriting was totally discredited. His lawyer would no doubt point to all the absurdities associated with the intruder theory that have never been explained: why would a kidnapper leave the body in the house; why would he go to the trouble of hiding it in a remote basement room; and why if he had no way of removing the body, would he leave a note behind even when it no longer could serve any purpose? Also, how did he get in and out, and why wasn't there more evidence of his presence than just some odd snippets of DNA?

For some time nothing much happened on the DNA front, until in July 2008, there was a dramatic "break" in the case. According to an ABC News report,
New DNA evidence from the JonBenet Ramsey murder case positively clears her parents and points the finger at a man whose DNA profile is not currently in any criminal database, the Boulder County District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday. . .

On Wednesday, District Attorney Mary Lacy told John in the letter that "significant new evidence that has recently been discovered through the application of relatively new methods of DNA analysis" clears John, his wife, and their son, Burke, from "any suspicion in the commission of this crime." . . .

Lacy explained that last summer, investigators became aware of a new method of DNA evidence collecting called "touch DNA" that would scrape places where there were no stains or other signs of DNA presence to see if genetic material could be collected. The District Attorney's Office contacted the Bode Technology Group near Washington, D.C., to scrape JonBenet's longjohns, which were probably handled by the perpetrator.

The firm confirmed that the DNA it collected on the waistband of the two sides of the longjohns matched the DNA of a blood drop on the inside crotch of JonBenet's underwear."The match of male DNA on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of the murder makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items," Lacy wrote. "That genetic profile belongs to a male and does not belong to anyone in the Ramsey family."
I'll discuss the meaning of this new evidence and respond to Lacy's very questionable interpretation in the next episode. Stay tuned . . .


  1. I have always wondered if Team Ramsey, upon learning of the new collection technique realized that they were almost certain to find some touch DNA somewhere, which could then be attributed to the "intruder". I wonder who's idea it really was to do the touch DNA testing.

  2. DocG, I'm still reading and trying to resolve the intruder theory. I think the most useful tool in resolving the IDI theory would be criminal profiling. So say an IDI, the profile seems to go something like this:
    Caucasian male (based on majority of the population in the community), age 25-30 (based on verbiage in the RN), of small to medium build and stature (just an assumption, if and only if the basement widow was either an entry or exit point), an acquaintance of the Ramsey's (based on remarks made in the RN).

    Then. I have some answers to the questions posed in this post associated with the intruder theory that have never been explained:
    why would a kidnapper leave the body in the house?-- the intruder was not strong enough to carry her out, there was some evidence that she had been dragged around. Also, removing the body from the house was very, very risky.
    why would he go to the trouble of hiding it in a remote basement room. To create the illusion that she had truly been kidnapped.
    - why if he had no way of removing the body, would he leave a note behind even when it no longer could serve any purpose? Oh but it did, it allowed more time to receive the randsom money or for the get away. As we now know, no calls were ever made for the randsom so the intruder never intended to collect and it was only to allow more time for an escape.
    - how did he get in and out? I suspect in through the basement window and out through the Butler door, but unfortunately any number of ways since the security alarm was not on. How tragic the Ramsey's had an alarm but did not activate it.
    - why wasn't there more evidence of his presence than just some odd snippets of DNA? The intruder was completely covered from head to toe, no hair or skin was exposed. The intruder obviously wore gloves since the were no other fingerprints found at the scene.

    One has to think like a criminal to catch a criminal and I don't recollect seeing anywhere that a criminal profile has been developed.

    As it stands, to me only two scenarios fit the evidence: JDI or IDI. If it was an intruder, it was a carefully thought out and planned crime. I would venture as far to say the person had entered the home on more than one occasion, if only to grab the pen and paper and scope out the place. I find it so hard to believe JDI, since there was no previous signs of criminal behavior on his part although it is still very possible.

    Just my thoughts as an average person who would really like closure and justice for JonBenet Ramsey.

    1. MG, I urge you to comment only after the most recent blog post, so the others can easily find your comments. Otherwise I'm the only one reading them.

      If you read more in this blog you'll learn why I'm not a fan of criminal profiling. It can be of use in identifying prospective suspects, yes. But not much use in actually solving a case, in my opinion, because there are just too many different ways to interpret what is said and what is done by anyone for any reason. Many people have attempted to profile the killer, of course, especially the Ramseys and their team, who seem to have at one time or another suspected just about everyone they knew.

      The bottom line, as I see it, is that no intruder theory makes sense. Once we realize the note was written on a notepad found in the house, then we are forced to the realization that this is something no intruder would have done. You can find explanations for many of the odd aspects of this case, such as the fact that the victim was never actually kidnapped, but you can't explain that note as something an intruder would have taken the time to write while in the house. All such possibilities are covered in this blog. Use the search engine.

  3. I always wondered about this case. It seems that the killer had to have known the Ramseys, specifically JonBenet herself. One, because of details in the ransom note. Two, because I think the killer lured JonBenet downstairs/ down the hall into the kitchen because she knew and trusted him. He made her pineapple. She ate it. The killer may have worn gloves at some point, but they were removed, I think, because the flashlight was wiped clean which would indicate he wiped away his own fingerprints after handling the flashlight. The notepad used to write the ransom note... It's not unheard of the killer would use the Ramseys' notepad. Who DOESN'T have a pen and paper pad somewhere in the kitchen? He probably wrote the note before the Ramseys even got home. I think the killer broke in, hid in the storage area or cellar until the family was asleep. Snuck into the girl's room. She knew and trusted him. She followed him to the kitchen. He gave her pineapple, then maybe he promised to play with her or paint with her in the hobby room where he found the paintbrush, or maybe, if he had been in the house before the Ramseys got home, he had already found the paintbrush. This is more likely because think about it: the (nylon?) rope I think the killer brought with him only because I've never read anywhere that a similar type of cord was ever found in the Ramsey's home. But we know the paintbrush belonged to the Ramseys and the other half of it was found in a tote in the hobby room. There's no way in my mind that the killer rendered her unconscious, then wandered the house looking for strangulation tools. I think he was in the house for a long time before the Ramseys got home, wandered into the hobby room, found the paintbrush, and broke it to his desired size and fashioned the garrote all before the Ramseys even got home. I don't think he could've fashioned those knots and found the paintbrush in a murderous frenzy. I think he found and used to flashlight to navigate the home, then later removed his fingerprints.
    Also, I always thought the note was strange in the way that it only addresses John Ramsey. What do you make of that? Why did the note target John, but never mention Patsy or the other family members?

    1. "There's no way in my mind that the killer rendered her unconscious, then wandered the house looking for strangulation tools."

      According to most of the forensic experts consulted, the strangulation occurred anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours after the head blow. So your intruder would indeed have hung around for at least 45 minutes. Why?

      And why do you think JonBenet would have accepted pineapple from someone who did not belong in that house?

      Just two reasons of many to discount an intruder. I urge you to continue reading here so you can get the full picture.