Pitt and the Pendulum

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Though the police hadn't named suspects in the little girl's murder, it wasn't a mystery that the Ramseys were the prime — some would say exclusive — focus. (The most anyone officially involved has said publicly is Boulder police chief Mark Beckner's comment that the couple remains under "an umbrella of suspicion.")

Months passed, and that "dialogue" prosecutors had longed for hadn't materialized. But the Ramseys smelled an opening after Alex Hunter's office took control of the case, because John and Patsy knew they had allies there.

As Hunter's people prepared for the pivotal interviews, the D.A. put Pitt on his payroll.

"When I talked to different people about him," says Hunter, "he came with really high marks. He gave us insights in terms of 'profiling' people that we were looking at that I thought were beyond all of our expertise, important, helpful stuff. He's tough and tenacious, and he isn't just a book kind of guy. He was particularly valuable in giving us suggestions about the order and timing and nature of the questions we'd be asking the Ramseys. He always has had extremely strong feelings about the case, which, to put it mildly, he wasn't afraid to share."

But Pitt says Hunter's staff ignored all but one of his suggestions, and that was to videotape the sessions:

"Even if the Boulder [police] guys weren't going to be able to interview those people, I wanted them on site so they could watch in real time, and could make suggestions to the interviewers during breaks, etc. I wanted them to put a time code on the videotapes to make it easier to track afterward. And I wanted the interviews to go as long as possible, with a bunch of questions that I wanted them to ask — they never touched them."

What actually happened seems absurd in the retelling. Pitt sat with one team of detectives at the Boulder station, miles from a police station in a neighboring town where the Ramseys were being interviewed simultaneously, but in different rooms.

The interviews continued for hours on end, someone would rush a just-completed videotape to the Boulder station, where the detectives and Pitt would watch it, in an unprecedented exercise of investigative futility. (The cops asked Pitt to focus on Patsy Ramsey, befitting her position as the unofficial lead suspect. A second team of detectives concentrated on John Ramsey.)

The interviews, while fascinating and occasionally enlightening to Pitt, didn't seem to move the case closer to resolution.

Later in the summer of 1998, Alex Hunter convened the investigative grand jury that finally concluded last week.

"Timing is everything," Pitt says, "and it's not just the timing, it's the spin — putting on the pressure of what you're trying to achieve with a subject or subjects. . . . Two or three months without anything happening sends a signal to the other parties. . . . I think if Alex is being honest, he'd tell you his biggest regret was losing the momentum after the interviews, even if they didn't go as well as they could have, and not going forward with the grand jury then — or even before then."

"Did Steve say that?" Hunter asks New Times in a separate interview.

Hunter chuckles.

"That's Steve. He can be pretty difficult once in a while. But he can be pretty damned savvy, too."

It's Wednesday morning, October 13, 1999, which will turn out to be D-Day — more precisely, non-D-Day — in the JonBenet Ramsey case.

Hundreds of journalists are sitting on their hands across the street from the Boulder County Justice Center, wondering when, if and how the grand jury's decision will be announced. No one in the know is talking, at least publicly, so reporters have taken to interviewing each other. Geraldo Rivera has flown into town, but he hasn't made an appearance. Instead, he's sunning himself at a bed-and-breakfast just west of town.

A few miles east, Boulder police sergeant Tom Wickman and detective Tom Trujillo — both of whom have been assigned to the Ramsey case since day one — are investigating another violent crime.

A 22-year-old woman has been stabbed as she lay in her bed in the early morning hours. By now, just before noon, she's undergoing surgery, and already has had her gallbladder removed.

Her story to police at the scene: She and two female roommates live on the second-floor apartment near the University of Colorado campus. She was sleeping alone in the wee hours on a mattress on the floor of the one-bedroom unit. A person she never saw stabbed her in the right side with a steak knife he'd gotten (assuming it was a he) from the kitchen. Her assailant then had fled.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin