The parents of JonBenet Ramsey are suing Court TV for $70 million, claiming the network defamed their son, Burke, when it named him as a prime suspect in his sister's murder.
In a June 15 filing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the Ramseys claimed Court TV knowingly accused Burke of the crime despite statements to the contrary from Boulder, Colo., law-enforcement officials months earlier.
Court TV made the charge in a Nov. 5, 1999 episode of Crime Stories
titled, "Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey, Prime Suspect."
"They had no right to put that child on trial," said Lin Wood, the Ramsey's Atlanta-based attorney.
Wood said that in May 1999, Boulder officials responded to similar tabloid stories by announcing that Burke Ramsey was not a suspect in the murder of his 6-year-old sister.
JonBenet Ramsey was found beaten and strangled in the basement of her parent's Boulder home on December 26, 1996.
"They [Boulder officials] said he [Burke] was not even a potential witness," Wood said. "In the face of that, Court TV made a horrible mistake, if you can call a deliberate action a mistake."
Court TV general counsel Doug Jacobs said the network would not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit also accuses Court TV of "willful misconduct" and "conscious indifference," and of attempting to "sensationalize" the Crime Stories
episode by claiming that Boulder law enforcement had "zeroed in" on Burke Ramsey as a "prime" suspect in the case.
The claim that Burke Ramsey was the main suspect, the suit contends, came despite affidavits from the Boulder Police Department and the district attorney's office which indicated that the boy, then 9-years-old, "was not a suspect in connection with his sister's murder, and was not looked at as a possible suspect."
The lawsuit also names Court TV owners AOL Time Warner Inc., Time Warner Entertainment and Liberty Media Corp, the joint venture partners in Court TV.
Wood said the network had refused to settle the case out of court. That agreement would have involved a financial settlement and a retraction.
A jury trial is now a possibility, said Wood.
"We gave Court TV the opportunity to do the right thing in regard to this child," Wood said. "Now I think the Ramseys are going to be more inclined to take this all the way."
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