|Fight Talk in the JonBenet Ramsey Case (8/11/98)|
"Your client is a leach on society, and he's going down," exclaims the DA.
"Really?" responds the defense lawyer. "Come back to me this afternoon after I'm through slicing up your so called witness. You'll be begging me to cop a plea to a misdemeanor . . . which, by the way, I won't take."
It's the kind of stuff that drives me crazy. My position has always been that a lawyer is only as good as his case, and a case is only as good as the facts and the witnesses. If I've got a good case, I don't need to pound my chest in anticipation of winning it. Just shut up, get in the courtroom, and prove it.
Of course, "proving it" is a concept that is far removed from the prosecution of the unknown killer of JonBenet Ramsey, the adolescent yet perennial beauty queen contestant of Boulder, Colorado who, in late 1996, was found murdered in her parents' spacious home.
Although crimes rarely have anything in common, investigative work does: if you don't know the identity of the perpetrator within two weeks from the time of the offense, the odds against ever solving the case are overwhelming.
Despite this premise, Boulder D.A. Alex Hunter took to the airwaves two months after the killing and engaged in his own brand of fight talking.
I couldn't believe my ears.
"I want to say something to the person or persons. . .that took this baby from us," said Hunter. "I [previously] mentioned this list of suspects narrows. Soon there will be no one on the list but you. When that time comes, and as I have said to you, that time will come, [we] . . .are going to bear down on you. You have stripped us of any mercy that we might have had in the beginning of this investigation. We will see that justice is served in this case and that you pay for what you did."
One and one-half years later, the fight talk has revealed itself for what it was: just talk.
The case is not even close to being solved, and I'm willing to bet, albeit sadly, there will never be a conviction in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey.
But in an ironic twist, D.A. Alex Hunter is now the focus of an immense amount of criticism, and the governor of Colorado is currently considering removing him from the case. That option came under consideration after Detective Steve Thomas of the Boulder Police Department wrote a scathing resignation letter claiming that Hunter had compromised the investigation and "literally facilitat[ed] the escape of justice" by sharing information with the parents of JonBenet.
The act of fight talking is primarily engaged in by younger lawyers but not exclusively so. Hunter, who is certainly no rookie prosecutor, will probably learn a lesson that has somehow escaped him throughout the years: Never engage in fight talk. But if you do, be prepared to back it up. Some folks have a very long memory - especially when the case involves a nation wide audience.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.