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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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reasonable Doubt

Based on the arguments in my previous post, I'm convinced it would not be difficult for the DA to establish probable cause for John Ramsey to be indicted for the sexual assault and murder of his daughter. Once he is put on trial, however, probable cause is no longer sufficient. It will be necessary to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. And before I continue I want to make it clear that putting John on trial and hearing what his defense will be like, when challenged by a determined prosecutor with a solid understanding of the case, has always been my first priority. If he and his lawyers can establish reasonable doubt in my mind, that's fine with me, because like most of us I would prefer to think some strange intruder with baffling motives and methods assaulted this child rather than her own father.

What I want to do now is go over those aspects of the case where reasonable doubt could be argued, to see how convincing such a strategy would be. And since the defense will certainly insist that an intruder committed the crime, that's the logical place to begin.

So. All doors reported locked. John told the police first arriving on the scene that he had checked all the street level doors before going to bed at night and also on the following morning, after reading the "ransom" note, and all were locked. A police officer double checked and also found them locked. The police checked the broken window in the basement and reported "no sign of forced entry." When the police finally had the opportunity to question John on this matter, after months of delay, he hedged, claiming he was no longer sure he checked all the doors, that he might have missed the "Butler" door, which appeared to be open in a police photo he saw. Not long after John's interview, one of the lead detectives, Lou Smit, argued that the police had been wrong, and that the broken basement window was the most likely place for an intruder to have entered and left.

Both the "Butler door" theory and Smit's basement window theory have been thoroughly debunked, time after time, in, for example, Steve Thomas's book and most recently James Kolar's book. For  details, see my blog post entitled The Lou Smit Show. The "Butler door" was indeed found locked, was later opened by a police technician, and then photographed. None of the heavy layer of dirt and grime on the sill of the basement window was displaced or smeared, nor was a cobweb in a corner of the window frame broken or disturbed in any way. A photo of Lou Smit squeezing through that narrow space proves that someone could have passed through the window, but at the same time demonstrates very clearly that this could not have been done without leaving clear signs of an intruder's presence. None were found. No one went through that window.

Does all the above constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt that no intruder could have entered the Ramsey home that night? Not really, because the intruder could have had a key. What can be established beyond reasonable doubt, however, is that the intruder would have to have had a key -- because there was, in fact, no sign of forced entry anywhere.

Which brings us to the fact that everyone known to have had a key to the Ramsey residence was thoroughly investigated. No handwriting match was found and, more important, no DNA match. Proof beyond reasonable doubt that no intruder was present? Not really, because the DNA evidence is most likely meaningless anyhow, and the ability of the handwriting "experts" to rule anyone out can be questioned. This is not likely to be the defense's argument, since they have always insisted the DNA had to be that of the intruder, and they have also relied heavily on the "experts" having ruled John out as writer of the note. It's always possible, nevertheless, that the police investigation was flawed and it's also possible, of course, that some unknown person could have gotten hold of a key without the authorities knowing anything about it. So once again, reasonable doubt can be invoked. There is no way to prove that someone with a key could not have entered the house that night.

The prosecution could next turn to the question of motive. What would have been the motive of an intruder or intruders to do all that was done? Why would a kidnapper not have a ransom note prepared ahead of time? Why would he have wanted to write such a long, detailed note? Why would he have taken the risk of writing that long note while in the house? Why not carry through with the kidnapping plan even after killing his victim, by removing the body from the house? And if he had panicked after killing his victim, and decided to forget about his original plan, then why would he leave the ransom note behind anyhow? Since it was hand written, it could be used as evidence against him. And why would he have gone to the trouble of hiding the body in the most remote room in the house, latching the door behind him as he left?

With each of these questions the likelihood of an intruder becomes increasingly remote. And the difference between reasonable and unreasonable doubt narrows considerably. The difference becomes even narrower when we consider the complete lack of anything in the house that could be conclusively associated with an intruder's presence. No sign of footprints on the lawn. No sign of mud or moisture tracked into the house, despite the layer of frost outside. No strange fingerprints. Nothing missing, nothing stolen. When one thinks of all the many signs one would expect to find in the house if an intruder had been present, it is indeed surprising that literally nothing that could conclusively be linked to such a person was ever found. And if one would want to argue that this person could have gone to great lengths to conceal his presence, then why would he have wanted to leave a ransom note in his own hand?

To argue reasonable doubt in the face of all the many reasons for reasonably doubting the existence of this mysterious intruder is indeed a formidable task. Nevertheless, and despite all the many reasons for seriously doubting the existence of an intruder, it is in fact very difficult to prove a negative, i.e., to establish beyond reasonable doubt that someone completely unknown, out of the loop, with mysterious motives only he could understand, could not have entered the house with a key, murdered an innocent little girl and gotten away with it. Despite the fact that not one single piece of conclusive intruder evidence was ever found, the Ramsey defense team has been able  to produce an endless stream of inconclusive evidence, from unsourced fibers, to suspicious footprints, to unsourced DNA, etc., etc., etc. While you or I might not think too much of inconclusive evidence produced in what might seem a desperate attempt at misdirection, such evidence can nevertheless be very effectively used to sow reasonable doubt in the minds of a jury.

(to be continued . . . )


  1. To be honest, the contents of the note never made sense to me until I read your theory and understood: it was never meant to be seen by police. It was meant to be seen by Patsy and maybe a few of their close friends, destroyed before the police ever saw it, and only described to them.

    Everything in the note makes sense if you understand he was writing it first and foremost for its effect on Patsy, to convince her to give him control over the situation, not involve LE, to scare her into submitting to his will. It was of course intended to have that effect on anyone who read it, but Patsy was #1. He needed her out of the way first and foremost to complete the coverup.

    1. Well said. That's my take on the note precisely.