03/08/2009 AT 5:30 PM ET
Call him Mr. Cautious. Boulder, Colo., District Attorney Stan Garnett isn’t about to make the same mistakes as his two predecessors by opening or closing the umbrella of suspicion on any suspects in the unsolved murder of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey.
In a recent interview, Garnett tells PEOPLE the Boulder Police Department’s task force met for the first time last week, and it’s “a very impressive group.” He says it was “a worthwhile couple of days,” but when it comes to making promises on what comes next, Garnett goes back to what constituents told him back on the campaign trail: “Don’t talk about the case unless you solve it.”
Still one of the nation’s most notorious murder mysteries, JonBenét’s body – bludgeoned and strangled – was discovered in the basement of her parent’s upscale Boulder home the day after Christmas 1996, hours after her mother called 911 to report a kidnapping. A rambling, three-page ransom note was also left at the scene. The child’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, quickly came under suspicion, although a grand jury convened in October of 1999 failed to indict anyone.
In December 2002, newly elected Boulder DA Mary Keenan Lacy took over the investigation from police. Lacy, who believed the evidence was “more consistent with a theory that an intruder murdered JonBenét,” went on to arrest John Mark Karr in August 2006. The case against Karr was dropped 12 days later.
Then, six months before leaving office, Lacy sent a letter of apology to John Ramsey (Patsy had died in 2006 after a long battle with ovarian cancer), saying that said she no longer considered any Ramsey family members to be suspects.
Garnett, 52, who took over the DA’s office on Jan. 13 of this year, immediately gave the case back to the Boulder Police Department after a span of nearly six years. He thinks the Boulder PD has been “unfairly maligned in connection with the Ramsey’s.” Garnett says he looked into the department quite carefully “because I didn’t want to give it back to an agency I didn’t think could handle it.”
New Task Force
On Feb. 2, Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner held a press conference to announce the formation of a cold case task force made up of veteran law enforcement members from a variety of agencies including the FBI to review evidence and explore theories. Beckner said at the time that he believed the murder could be solved because of the advances in both DNA and linguistics technology.
Garnett, a former Denver prosecutor who has been trying cases for nearly 27 years, won’t comment on what Beckner might test. Instead, he remembers where he was the day JonBenét’s body was discovered: skiing with his two teenage sons. He says he didn’t jump to conclusions then and he won’t now. “The evidence,” he says, “will define what happens in this case.”