Burke files $750M lawsuit
The brother of JonBenét Ramsey has filed a lawsuit seeking $750 million against CBS Corp., saying the broadcast company produced a fraudulent documentary that slandered him by accusing him of striking and killing his sister with a flashlight in 1996.
Burke Ramsey’s lawsuit was filed Wednesday in 3rd Circuit Court in Wayne County, Mich., by Atlanta attorney Lin Wood on Ramsey’s behalf. It claims CBS slandered him during a primetime, four-hour documentary Sept. 18 and 19.
The defendants in the case also include Critical Content LLC, a California programming studio; former FBI profilers Jim Clemente, James Fitzgerald and Stanley Burke; forensic expert Laura Richards; former Boulder district attorney’s investigator A. James Kolar; forensic scientist Dr. Werner Spitz; and celebrity patholo-
gist Henry Lee.
The program, “The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey,” was released as the 20th anniversary of the 6year-old beauty queen’s death in Boulder was approaching. It was viewed by more than 10 million people, the lawsuit says.
Ramsey, who was 9 when his sister was killed, is seeking $250 million in compensatory damages and $500 million in punitive damages. Ramsey, now 29, lives in Charlevoix, Mich.
“CBS and Critical Content knowingly and intentionally published false and defamatory statements conveying that Burke killed JonBenét, engaged in a criminal coverup with his parents and lied to the police,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit said the documentary was laced with inaccurate information, including claims that DNA evidence taken from JonBenét’s underwear and pajamas was worthless.
“CBS perpetrated a fraud upon the public — instead of being a documentary based on a new investigation by a so-called team of experts, ‘The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey’ was a fictional crime show,” the lawsuit says.
CBS promoted the “fraudulent” series by claiming it had assembled seven independent “world renowned” investigators to investigate the case from scratch. However, the show was based on a “self-published” book by Kolar, “Foreign Faction.” Kolar had worked for former Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy when he took over the Ramsey investigation in 2005, the lawsuit says. It was his first homicide investigation, it says.
Instead of assembling a team of independent experts, the team gathered people who shared Kolar’s theory about Burke Ramsey, the lawsuit says. Kolar already had met Spitz and Lee while he was writing the book. Kolar also had presented his “rejected” theory to Fitzgerald, a member of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in 2006.
Clemente and Stanley also had worked with Fitzgerald for the FBI behavioral unit and are now co-workers at a company called X-G Productions LA, which consults on and produces fictional crime films and TV shows, including “Criminal Minds,” “The Closer” and “NCIS,” the lawsuit says. Although Richards was described as a criminal behavioral analyst trained by New Scotland Yard and the FBI, she also works for X-G Productions. Defendants knew before their “complete reinvestigation” that they would accuse Burke Ramsey of killing his sister, the lawsuit says.
Kolar also was touted as a world-renowned criminal expert in the show, it says. The fact that he wrote “Foreign Faction” was not disclosed in the series, the lawsuit says. Spitz was described as a forensic pathologist who consulted on the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. But federal judges have referred to Spitz as “not useful or credible” and said his opinions were “simplistic and preposterous,” the lawsuit says.
“Defendants knew that the majority of the ... theories presented in the documentary were taken from ‘Foreign Faction’ and did not, as represented to the public, result from a complete reinvestigation by new experts,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants created the illusion of a new real-time reinvestigation by using individuals with law enforcement credentials as actors to play the role of the pseudo-experts and support and act out the accusation of Kolar’s book and the basis supporting its accusation.”
Kolar’s theory that Burke Ramsey killed his sister was viewed as early as 2006 by members of Lacy’s office as “ludicrous,” “total smoke and mirrors” and “speculation based on hearsay,” the lawsuit says. His employment at the office ended shortly after his presentation of the theory in 2006, the lawsuit says.
“No evidence suggesting Burke’s involvement in JonBenét’s death has ever been discovered and, because he is innocent, does not exist,” the lawsuit says. “As far back as 1998, law enforcement authorities responsible for the JonBenét Ramsey murder investigation have repeatedly, publicly and unequivocally cleared Burke Ramsey of any involvement in the death of his sister.”
The lawsuit says Burke Ramsey has no prior history of criminal conduct, sexual abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse or any type of violent behavior. It says while Burke was sleeping at his home in the early hours of Dec. 26, 1996, his sister was “brutally tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered.”
The CBS program identified Burke Ramsey as his sister’s killer despite a long history of detectives and prosecutors in the case making public disclosures that he was never a suspect, the lawsuit says.
“There was no evidence developed prior to or during the law enforcement investigation and the grand jury investigation that in any way links Burke to the killing of his sister or that caused the Boulder PD or the Boulder DA to consider him a suspect in the investigation of her murder,” the lawsuit says.
The CBS documentary followed earlier reports by the supermarket tabloids Star and Globe and the New York Post that speculated Burke Ramsey was the killer. The Globe had reported that after showing signs of disturbance including that he “smeared feces in his bathroom” the “squirrely” child killed his sister. On his behalf, Ramsey’s parents sued the Globe, the Star and the New York Post in 1999 and 2000 for libel. He later received settlements in each of the lawsuits, the lawsuit says.
CBS spokesman Dustin Smith declined to comment on the lawsuit, The Associated Press reported.
The lawsuit says Burke Ramsey is a private citizen and has never attained the status of a public figure, which is relevant in a slander claim.
After decades of silence, Burke Ramsey came forward only this year after he learned CBS was working on a documentary that identifies him as a suspect in his sister’s death. He granted one interview to Dr. Phil McGraw from the “Dr. Phil” show.
The lawsuit includes a long list of facts that dispute the theory that any member of the family was involved in the murder, including DNA from an unidentified male found under JonBenét’s fingernails and on the crotch of her underwear. Although the CBS program indicated JonBenét’s death was caused by the flashlight strike, the autopsy report said the cause of death was asphyxia by strangulation with the garrote associated with craniocerebral trauma, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says there were fingernail abrasions and scrapes near where the garrote was embedded in JonBenét’s neck, indicating that she was struggling with her attacker, the lawsuit says. Wood fragments from a paintbrush used to create the garrote were found in JonBenét’s vagina, it says. Her hymen was injured during the sexual assault, causing her to bleed onto her underwear.
The lawsuit quotes the forensic experts who appeared in the CBS documentary including Clemente as telling various newspaper reporters that the show reaches a conclusion about who killed JonBenét. Clemente was quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald as saying it “explains who did what to whom and when and how.” Fitzgerald proclaimed, “we solved it,” during a promotional campaign, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and Glenn Geller, president of CBS Entertainment, were presented an opportunity to review a large notebook of exculpatory information regarding Burke Ramsey before airing the documentary, but they declined.
On Oct. 6, Burke Ramsey filed a separate $150 million lawsuit in the 3rd Circuit Court in Michigan against forensic pathologist Spitz, who was also an expert for CBS. The lawsuit cited statements Spitz made in a Sept. 19 CBS Detroit radio program that also were used in the CBS TV miniseries.
Burke Ramsey is suing CBS, claiming that it slandered him in a documentary about the slaying of his sister.
John and Patsy Ramsey sit with their son, Burke, on their back porch at their home in Charlevoix, Mich., in August 1997.