A Big So What in Atlanta

This NOAA satellite image taken Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005 at 2:15pm EDT shows clouds associated with Tropical Depression Twent-four southeast of Jamaica. The system is expected to strengthen while moving slowly northwest over the next few days. Clouds over the Northeast are associated with continuing showers over New England, but steady rain will gradually decrease. Clear skies can be seen over the Southeast and scattered clouds are seen over the Central Plains. (AP Photo/NOAA) AP

So what.

I'm guessing that's precisely what officials in Boulder, Colo. think about Wednesday's news that John and Patsy Ramsey have apparently passed a lie-detector test the couple bought and paid for.

The results of the test are not admissible in a court of law and, because law enforcement officials weren't involved in the testing, aren't likely to be terribly relevant to the ongoing investigation into the death of the Ramsey's daughter, JonBenet, on December 26, 1996.

The tests won't be used by investigators to rule the Ramseys in or out of "the umbrella of suspicion" they have found themselves in since the day little JonBenet was murdered in her home. They won't suddenly change the minds of those in Colorado and elsewhere who believe the Ramseys may have had something to do with their daughter's death. And they don't prove that the Ramseys are innocent any more than they prove that they are guilty or anything in between.

What the tests prove is that the Ramseys are intent on waging -- and winning -- a public relations war at the expense of the very same Boulder police officials they have been sparring with over the past few years. I'm not exactly sure why the Ramseys feel that winning this war is important enough to further risk their credibility but apparently it is. That's why the Ramseys were willing to spend the time and money on an endeavor which brings so little legal benefit to them.

Now the Ramseys can point the finger back at the Boulder police and say, "See, we've met you half-way, we took a test and we passed and now the onus is on you to show that you are willing to look in other directions to catch the killer." The problem with this strategy is that all the police have to do to reasonably respond to it is to say publicly, as they have said all along, that they are looking at a number of suspects, including, but not limited to the Ramseys.

Back to the tests. Of course, the Ramseys would pass lie-detector tests administered by polygraph experts hired by their attorney. No slight against those experts, who may be as wonderful and independent and virtuous as the Ramseys' lawyers say they are, but clients simply don't hire experts to conduct tests and give opinions which harm the client. That's just about gospel in the world of the law.

For that matter, of course there would have been no lengthy, self-serving press conference had the tests in any way showed that the Ramseys were in any way involved in the death of their daughter. You can also bet that if law enforcement officials administered tests and those tests suggested that the Ramseys were lying in some way, the very same folks who on Wednesday heralded the accuracy and credibility of polygraph testing -- the Ramseys' attorneys -- would have stood up before the world and trashed that accuracy and credibility of such testing.

Public relations ploy or not, the law simply doesn't yet recognize polygraph tess as reliable enough to play a role in determining the guilt or innocence of any party, Ramseys included. So while Wednesday's big announcement may have generated a lot of coffee-shop talk, it won't mean much in a courtroom anytime soon.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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