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The family of murder victim JonBenet Ramsey is encouraged by renewed attention given to the 25-year-old case.
“I think there’s a new way of thinking about this. I’m certainly encouraged,” John Andrew Ramsey, the half-brother of JonBenet, told Fox News Digital.
On April 30, JonBenet’s father, John Ramsey, announced the start of a petition calling on Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to allow the Ramsey family to hire an independent agency to test DNA in his daughter’s case.
JonBenet’s mother reported her missing to police when the girl was 6 years old on the morning of Dec. 26, 1996, in Boulder, Colorado, after discovering a lengthy ransom note demanding $118,000 in exchange for the girl. John Ramsey found her body later that same day in the basement of their home.
Statements of commitment
The Boulder Police Department and Polis issued statements shortly after Ramsey made the call for independent testing at the CrimeCon conference in Las Vegas.
“Our investigation with federal, state and local partners has never stopped,” BPD Chief Maris Herold said in a statement. “That includes new ways to use DNA technology. We’ve always used state-of-the-art technology as it has been at the forefront of this investigation. Every time the DNA technology changed, we worked to make sure the evidence could be tested.”
Polis told CBS Denver Monday that “the killer of JonBenet Ramsey should not rest easily.”
“I am still optimistic that he or she will be apprehended with technology that exists today and five years or in 10 years,” the governor said.
John Andrew Ramsey called the governor’s statement “encouraging” and the BPD’s statement “mildly encouraging.”
Familial DNA searches
Harley Feldman’s daughter was murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2015, when she was 31 years old.
Feldman reached out to Fox News Digital upon seeing John Ramsey’s push for independent DNA testing to offer some insight into how a familial DNA search helped his family track down Allison’s murderer.
Familial searches match DNA samples with individuals in the government’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) or individuals who have been logged into the U.S. criminal justice system.
“The perpetrator left after he murdered Allison. He left the house for 45 minutes and came back with some kind of alcohol or some compound that he used to clean behind himself, in that process of destroying all the fingerprints that he might have left someplace,” Feldman explained.
There were no fingerprints to identify Allison’s killer, but authorities did have three DNA samples they could test. Familial DNA testing was not legal in Arizona at the time, but with the help of a state legislator and governor, the technology was green-lighted.
Here’s how it works: If a DNA sample found at a crime scene matches the DNA of someone who has spent time in a correctional facility, authorities can track down relatives of the DNA owner.
In Allison’s case, authorities were able to link a DNA sample from the crime scene to the suspect’s brother, Mark Mitcham, who had been arrested for child molestation. They were then able to identify Ian Mitcham as the suspect in her killing.
“I have a personal mission in life to keep my daughter’s legacy alive,” Feldman said. “And I’m the coordinator of a grief group in Minneapolis. So when I see cases like this, I think, ‘Well, maybe I can help.’ … I went to high school in Colorado. So I know the Ramsey case really well. And it just struck me that maybe he was frustrated with the DNA work that had been done by the Boulder police. And I thought, ‘Well, you know, maybe I’ve got some knowledge or something that might help.'”
John Andrew Ramsey said that, to the best of his knowledge, a familial DNA search has not been conducted in the JonBenet case due to certain limitations under Colorado law.
Mitch Morrisey, former Denver district attorney and co-founder of United Data Connect, the company that provided Arizona with the DNA technology that solved Allison’s murder case, says there are some factors of the Ramsey case that would need to change in order to conduct a familial DNA search.
“We developed the familial search software. We provided it to the state where Mr. Feldman’s daughter was killed. We provided it to the state of Colorado. It was United Data Connect’s familial search software that saw Mr. Feldman’s daughter’s murder. It was never used on the Ramsey case because of the Colorado policy that prohibited using it on less than a full profile,” Morrissey said. “Colorado has since, due to budgetary reasons, stopped doing familial searching and stopped using our software.”
John Andrew Ramsey similarly said authorities would need a full DNA profile to conduct a genealogy search. There were markers of an unknown male’s DNA on JonBenet’s underwear, but it as not enough to build a full DNA profile. The DNA is also mixed 50/50 with JonBenet’s DNA.
“What we have to date isn’t enough,” he said. “You’d want to go back and potentially retest that to see if you can pull more data out of that sample, you know, get more markers.”
He added that the Ramsey family believes there are “lots of other items that have never been tested that might yield more information.”
An investigative genetic genealogy search may be more likely, according to Morrisey.
“They’re being cautious about utilizing it because it may not be appropriate for the case that they have,” Morrisey explained. “They have a limited amount of DNA. They can only use so much of it, and then they’re out of it.”
DNA eventually disappears if it is tested too many times, the former DA said.
“If this is not a technique that will be helpful to them, they would be wasting DNA, getting it sequenced. And who knows, five years from now, they possibly could sort out the mixture that they have in the case with sequencing, or there may be a brand-new technology that would allow them to take the limited amount of DNA that they have and utilize it for that technique. So they’re taking a very cautious, thoughtful way of dealing with this and deciding on if it would be appropriate or not,” he said.
John Andrew Ramsey said his family was meeting with representatives from the governor’s office this week to go over the possibility of having an independent agency conduct DNA testing in the case.
“What we’re asking for, really, is unbiased investigators to step in and test everything and apply all the most recent science and technology to the case,” he said.
BPD says it has followed up on 21,016 tips, letters and emails and traveled to 19 states to interview more than a thousand individuals about the murder since Dec. 26, 1996. The department has also worked in collaboration with federal, state and local agencies on the case and met with those officials as recently as March 2022.
Additionally, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has updated more than 750 reference samples with the latest DNA technology, the department said in its statement.