generally PI.'s Sr. In Opp. To Defs.' Summ. J. Mot. <88> at 6, 21; PSDMF 44-75.) Further I
whereas Detective Smit's summary testimony concerning the investigation is based on
evidence, Detective Thomas' theories appear to lack substantial evidentiary support. (Id. )
Indeed, while Detective Smit is an experienced and respected homicide detective, Detective
Thomas had no investigative experience concerning homicide cases prior to this case. (Smit.
Dep. at 69.) In short, the plaintiff's evidence that the defendants killed their daughter and
covered up their crime is based on little more than the fact that defendants were present in
the house during the murder.
As the arguments in his brief opposing defendants' summary judgment motion are largely
restatements of the arguments he makes in support of his efforts to have the testimony of his
forensic' document examiners admitted, plaintiff implicitly acknowledges the dearth of
physical evidence supporting his argument. (See id. at 3, 5-6, 9-10, 13-19.) In short, the only
hard evidence, as
possible association with the case and received summaries of the Boulder authorities'
handwriting evidence, which concluded that Mrs. Ramsey probably did not write the Ransom
Note. (J. Ramsey Dep. at 12, 62 & 73-74.) He also asserts that he had no reason to doubt
any of this information. (Id. at 73-74.) As a matter of law, he is entitled to rely on this
information. See New York Times Co v. Conner, 365 F.2d 567, 576 (5th Cir. 1966) (defendant
entitled to rely on single source even if source one-sided). See also McFarlane v. Sheridan
Square Press, Inc., 91 F.3d 1501, 1510 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (stating there is no independent duty
to corroborate information, if no reason to doubt truthfulness.)
opposed to theories, that plaintiff proffers to support his accusation that Mrs.Ramsey
murdered her child is evidence indicating that she wrote the Ransom Note. The Court agrees
with plaintiff that, if plaintiff adduced clear and convincing evidence from which a reasonable
jury could infer that Mrs. Ramsey wrote the Ransom Note, this evidence would then be
sufficient to create a jury issue as to whether Mrs. Ramsey killed her child. In other words, if
Mrs. Ramsey wrote the Ransom Note, this Court could conclude, as could a reasonable jury,
that she was involved in the murder of her child.
The question then is whether plaintiff has proffered such clear and convincing evidence. This
Court has earlier ruled that plaintiffs' expert, Mr. Epstein, is qualified to compare Mrs.
Ramsey's handwriting with that contained in the Ransom Note for' the purposes of pointing
out similarities in the two. The Court, however, has concluded that Epstein cannot properly
testify that he is certain that Mrs. Ramsey was the author of the Note. For purposes of
assessing whether plaintiff has met its burden of proof, however, the Court will analyze the
evidence, assuming that Epstein could testify as to his proffered conclusion, as well as
assuming that he could testify only as to similarities between both the Ransom Note and Mrs.
Ramsey's known handwriting samples.
5 . Analysis of the Two Theories
a. Consideration of Epstein'. Testimony That There Were Similarities Between Mrs. Ramsey'.
Handwriting and the Ransom Note
As discussed supra, much of the physical evidence is consistent with an inference that an
intruder came into the Ramsey's home and murdered their child. Specifically, there was a
broken window in the basement and the window well for that window showed signs that
someone may have entered the house through it. Indeed, some of the foliage and debris from
that window well was found in the room where JonBenet's body was found. Further, the
evidence of stun gun injuries to JonBenet suggests that she was taken by someone who
wanted to keep her quiet as he removed her from her bedroom; a parent would not need a
stun gun to remove a child from her bedroom. Conversely, the use of a stun' gun by the killer
is totally at odds with plaintiff's theory that the violence against JonBenet began by Mrs.
Ramsey accidentally hit her daughter's head on the bathtub or bathroom floor. In addition, the
presence of a bag containing a rope in a guest bedroom near JonBenet s arguably supports a
notion that some premeditation and preparation attended the crime.
Other physical evidence is consistent with a theory that an intruder was in the home. There
was a recently made shoeprint, in a moldy area in the basement, that matched no shoes
owned by the Ramseys. There was also a palmprint on the door to the small room
where JonBenet's body was found that did not match the Ramseys' prints. DNA evidence
was further consistent with the possibility of an intruder, as JonBenet had the DNA of an
unknown male under some of her fingernails and on her underpants. The evidence also
indicated that JonBenet had been sexually assaulted and her vagina contained wood fibers
from the paint brush used to fashion the garotte.
The method by which JonBenet was killed also suggests it more likely that she was killed by
an intruder than by her mother. JonBenet was strangled through the use of a garotte and
bondage device that was sophisticated and employed the use of a series of tightly and neatly
made knots that would appear to have taken some time to make. There is no evidence that
the defendants had the skill to create such a device. Moreover, it is plaintiff's theory' that, after
thinking she had accidentally killed her daughter, Mrs. Ramsey worked quickly, before the
household awoke, to set up a staged kidnapping scenario. The creation of this bondage
device would appear to have required more time and calm than one would think Mrs. Ramsey
could have mustered under the circumstances.
Plaintiff has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the Ramseys
murdered their child; they have no burden to prove that they did not commit the crime. The
above recited evidence falls well short of the requisite proof that the
defendants killed their child. Plaintiff argues, however, that the Ransom Note provides this
At first blush, and even without an appraisal of the handwriting, the Ransom Note seems to
support plaintiff's argument that the kidnapping was a hoax set up by someone in the house. It
is an extremely long and detailed note of over three pages. Moreover, an examination of the
notepad on which the note was written indicates that the writer had attempted some earlier
drafts of the note. In addition, the writer had apparently not even brought his own materials,
but instead had used a note pad and felt marker from the Ramsey's home. These facts
suggest that the killer had not come prepared with a ransom note already written, as one
would expect a diligent kidnapper to do. Further, one does not assume that an intruder, intent
on beating a hasty retreat, would take the time to practice writing a note or to write a long,
detailed note. These assumptions then might suggest that someone in the house contrived
Defendants have argued, however, that it is just as plausible that the killer had been hiding
away in the home for many hours, waiting for the household to go to sleep, before he sprung
into action. That waiting time would have allowed him the leisure to write a note. Further, the
length of time that it took to practice and write the note could also conceivably undermine a
notion that Mrs. Ramsey wrote it. Under plaintiff's scenario,
Mrs. Ramsey was working quickly to create a staged crime scene before her husband and
son awoke. Given those time constraints, and presumably a desire to provide as little
handwriting as possible for purposes of future analysis, she arguably would not have written
such a long note. Accordingly, the existence of this peculiar, long Ransom Note does not
necessarily favor, as the killer, either an intruder or Mrs. Ramsey.
Thus, the only conceivable piece of evidence by which plaintiff can hope to carry his burden of
proof is evidence that indicates that Mrs. Ramsey actually wrote the note. Factoring into the
analysis the testimony of Mr. Epstein that there are similarities between Mrs. Ramsey's
handwriting and the Ransom Note does not, however, enable plaintiff to meet that burden.
The fact that there may be similarities between the two hardly constitutes persuasive
evidence that Mrs. Ramsey actually wrote the Note. Without that proof, plaintiff cannot show
that Mrs. Ramsey was the killer.
b. Consideration of Epstein'. Testimony That He Was Absolutely Certain that Mrs. Ramaey
Wrote the Ransom Note
The Court has earlier indicated its conclusion that there is insufficient reliability to Mr.
Epstein's methodology to permit him to state his conclusion that Mrs. Ramsey wrote the
Ransom Note. As noted supra, Epstein opined that he is "100 percent certain" that Patsy
Ramsey wrote the Ransom Note and that "there
is absolutely no doubt" that she is the author. Supra at 51. The Court believes its conclusion
on the admissibility of this evidence to be correct. Further, as the identify of the writer is
virtually the only evidence that plaintiff can offer to shoulder its burden, then the question of
the identity of the writer is synonymous with the underlying question in this litigation: did Mrs.
Ramsey kill her child. Nevertheless, even if the Court were to permit Epstein to testify as to
the above conclusion, the Court does not believe his testimony would provide the "clear and
convincing evidence" necessary for a reasonable finder of fact to conclude that Mrs. Ramsey
wrote the note.
As stated before, "clear and convincing" evidence requires "a clear conviction, without
hesitancy of the truth." Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261, 2BS
n. 11 (1990) . The parties have agreed that handwriting analysis is, at best, an inexact and
subjective tool used to provide probative, but not clear and convincing evidence, of a
questioned document's author. (SMF 212; PSMF 212.) Nonetheless, the Court will assume
that there could be cases where the handwriting in question is either so obviously not the
handwriting of a particular individual or so close a match to that person's penmanship, that a
finder of fact could comfortably rely on the handwriting, alone, to reach a particular
conclusion. Indeed, well before the days of forensic handwriting experts, courts have allowed
lay witnesses to
testify that they recognized the handwriting of particular documents as the handwriting of
someone with whose penmanship they were familiar. Further, appropriate testimony of
forensic experts can greatly assist the jury in its undertaking.
That said, while there may be cases in which handwriting examination, alone, can be
dispositive, this case is not one of that group. Here, as noted, several factors necessarily
reduce the weight a reasonable juror could give to Epstein's conclusion. First, Epstein did not
consult the original Ransom Note nor obtain original exemplars from Mrs. Ramsey. Second,
as noted by defendants, Epstein deviated from the very methodology that he has previously
asserted was necessary to make a reasoned judgment. Most significant to the Court in its
determination that Epstein's conclusion cannot carry the day for plaintiff, however, is the
unanimity of opinion among six other experts that Mrs. Ramsey cannot be determined to have
been the writer of the Note. As noted supra, the Boulder Police Department and District
Attorney's Office had consulted six other handwriting experts, all of whom reviewed the
original Ransom Note and exemplars. Supra at 21-22. Although two of these experts were
hired by defendants, four were independent experts hired by the pol ice. None of these six
experts were able to identify Mrs. Ramsey as the author of the Ransom Note. Instead, their
consensus was that she "probably did not" write the Ransom Note. Supra at n. 14.
Given the contrary opinion of six other experts, whose ability to examine the documents was
necessarily superior to Epstein's, and given Epstein's failure to explain the methodology by
which he can make absolute pronouncements concerning the authorship of a document, this
Court does not believe that a reasonable jury could conclude that Mrs. Ramsey was the
author of the Ransom Note, solely on the basis of Epstein's professed opinion to that effect.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court is aware that it is not permitted to make credibility
judgments in ruling on summary judgment motions. For example, were there six
eyewitnesses on one side of a question and one eyewitness on the other side, the Court
would not take from a jury the factual question on which these witnesses were testifying. With
regard to Epstein's testimony, however, the Court is not attempting to assess credibility. Mr.
Epstein may sincerely believe that Mrs. Ramsey wrote the Note and the jury may well credit
his sincerity. Nevertheless, no matter how earnest Epstein may be, the fact remains that he
has not explained his basis for reaching absolute certainty in his conclusion and, accordingly,
the weight and impact of his testimony would necessarily be less than the weight of the
contrary testimony of six other experts.39
39 The Court's judgment on this matter is the same whether these other six experts were as
vague concerning their methodology as was Epstein or whether they, ip fact, gave solid
explanations for their reasoning.
In sum, plaintiff has failed to prove that Mrs. Ramsey wrote the Ransom Note and has thereby
necessarily failed to prove that she murdered her daughter. ) Moreover, the"weight of the
evidence is more consistent with a theory that an intruder murdered JonBenet than it is with a
theory that Mrs. Ramsey did so. For that reason, plaintiff has failed to establish that when
defendants wrote the Book, they "in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the
publication." St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 731 (1968); Hemenway v. Blanchard, 163
Ga. App. 668, 671-72, 294 S.E.2d 603, 606 (1982). Accordingly, the Court GRANTS
defendants' motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff's libel claim.
In addition to his claims for libel, plaintiff asserts that. several statements made by defendants
to the press fit within one of the categories of slander per se recognized by Georgia law:
imputing to another a crime punishable by law. O.C.G.A. § 51-5-4 (a) . In particular, plaintiff
refers to defendants' March 24, 2000 appearance on the Today Show with host Katie Couric.
During. the course of the broadcast, the following conversation occurred:
Katie Couric: You pepper the book with fleeting references to some other people that you
seem to question. You talk about Bill McReynolds, who played Santa at your Christmas party.
You also mention his wife who, in a strange twist, wrote a
play years before about a girl murdered in a basement.
John Ramsey: The point in the book was to clarify from our viewpoint why these people have
been mentioned a lot in the media, and also to point out that there are legitimate leads that
need to be followed.
. . . .
Katie Couric: You also mention Chris Wolfe, a total stranger whose girlfriend reported that he
disappeared on Christmas night and was very agitated, rather--when he watched the news of
the murder on TV.
John Ramsey: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Katie Couric: Why do you mention him.
John Ramsey: Because he'd been widely mentioned in the news. And we wanted to clarify
the facts that we knew.
John Ramsey: I can tell you when--when we first started looking at--at one particular lead
early on--My reaction was, -This is it. This is the killer." And our investigator said, -"Whoa,
whoa, whoa." He'd say, "Don't do a Boulder Police on me. Don't rush to conclusions."
(Transcript of Today Show, March 24, 2000.) (emphasis added) The parties agree that, as
Mr. Ramsey made the last statement, NBC displayed a picture of Chris Wolf on the screen.
As with the libelous statements discussed above, while not textbook, these statements are
arguably slanderous. With the
slander claim, however, the factual predicate for plaintiff's malice argument is weaker than
with the libel claim. Specifically, although the emphasized quote suggests Mr. Ramsey's
belief that an unnamed suspect might be the killer--which was a malicious statement, if Mr.
Ramsey knew that his wife was the killer--plaintiff has not demonstrated that defendant John
Ramsey intended to refer to plaintiff when he made that statement. Moreover, even though
the photograph of plaintiff appeared on the screen when defendant made the statement, it is
undisputed that defendant had no control over NBC's editing decisions.
Nevertheless, even had defendant intended to refer to plaintiff, the statements are still not
malicious, for the reasons discussed supra, with regard to the libel claim. Accordingly, the
Court GRANTS defendants' motion for summary judgment as to, plaintiff's slander claim.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS defendants' motion for summary judgment
<67>; GRANTS as to Ms. Wong and GRANTS in part and DENIES in part as to Mr. Epstein
defendants' motion in limine to exclude the testimony of Cina Wong and Gideon Epstein <68>;
and DENIES defendants' motion for oral argument <79>.
SO ORDERED, this 31 day of March, 2003.
Julie E. Carnes
United States District Judge