More than a decade after a grand jury investigated the killing of JonBenet Ramsey, the case took center stage in a Boulder courtroom Friday as a judge heard initial arguments in a Daily Camera reporter's lawsuit seeking the release of the secret panel's un-prosecuted indictment.
In front of a small audience -- including Fleet White, who was with John Ramsey when he discovered 6-year-old JonBenet's body -- retired Weld County Judge Robert Lowenbach heard arguments about the nature of grand-jury secrecy.
The hour-long hearing stemmed from the lawsuit brought by Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press seeking the release of the grand jury's 1999 indictment of John Ramsey and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death.
The Camera is not a plaintiff, but supports the lawsuit.
Following Friday's arguments, Lowenbach said he will decide next week whether to require Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett to demonstrate why the indictment should remain secret.
The Camera reported earlier this year that the grand jury voted to indict the slain 6-year-old's parents on charges of child abuse resulting in death -- but that then-District Attorney Alex Hunter refused to sign the document and prosecute the Ramseys.
The attorneys for Brennan and the press committee argued during Friday's hearing that the indictment should be disclosed publicly because it's a criminal justice record that reflects an official action by the grand jury.
Attorney Tom Kelley also argued that, 14 years later, concerns around grand-jury secrecy no longer are applicable.
"The district attorney speaks of the optics of broken promises to these and future grand juries," Kelley said. "That's a good soundbite, your honor, but it rings hollow. Neither these grand jurors nor any grand jurors are promised secrecy permanently -- nor can they be."
Chief Trial Deputy Sean Finn, the custodian of records for the Boulder County District Attorney's Office, argued that the grand jury's oath of secrecy is still in place.
Finn said releasing the indictment could negatively affect future grand juries.
"This is an office that feels strongly that we do the people's business and the people have a right to know what's going on in our office ... but despite a good relationship with the press, there has to be a limitation," Finn said.
At the beginning of the hearing, Lowenbach cleared the courtroom to discuss with Garnett's prosecutors whether the indictment actually exists.
"I just want to make sure we're arguing over something ... It'll be fairly transparent if we go forward what the district attorney has told me," Lowenbach said.
After a short discussion, the hearing proceeded.
Garnett previously rejected two requests by the Camera and Brennan seeking the release of the indictment under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Brennan covered the Ramsey case extensively for the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News before joining the Camera's staff in 2012.
In 2010, Brennan worked for Garnett as communications director on Garnett's campaign for Colorado attorney general.
Six-year-old JonBenet was found dead Dec. 26, 1996, in the basement of her family's home, 755 15th St., several hours after Patsy Ramsey called 911 to say her daughter was missing and there was a ransom note.
In October 1999, more than a year after the case went to a grand jury, then-D.A. Hunter announced that the grand jury investigation had come to an end and that no charges would be filed due to a lack of evidence.
But in January of this year, Brennan reported in the Camera that members of the grand jury confirmed they voted to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey and that Hunter refused to sign the indictment, believing he could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.