By Jill Smolowe
February 11, 2013 12:00 PM

Almost three years had passed since the 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey. As D.A. Alex Hunter stepped to the podium in Boulder, Colo., to announce the grand jury’s findings, no hearts beat harder than those of the beauty pageant queen’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. “Our attorneys had us totally prepared to go to jail,” John tells PEOPLE. “We had bail money set up.” Instead, Hunter, saying he lacked “sufficient evidence” to file charges against anyone, let the jury go.

It turns out the grand jury had actually voted to indict JonBenét’s parents on charges of child abuse resulting in death, a felony that carries a potential sentence of up to 48 years. “We felt the adults in the house may have done something that they certainly could have prevented, or they could have helped her and they didn’t,” one juror told Boulder’s Daily Camera about the celebrated cold case. Former assistant D.A. Bill Wise called Hunter’s determination not to indict the right decision because the case was unwinnable. Defense attorney Scott Robinson, a Denver expert on the case, called Hunter’s decision “unprecedented” and likened it to a presidential pocket veto.

The D.A.’s office declined comment, but John Ramsey, who was officially cleared in 2008 along with his by-then-deceased wife, was unfazed by the story. “It’s just more drama,” says Ramsey, 69, who now lives with his third wife, Jan, in Michigan and Nevada. Noting that the statute of limitations on the indictment has long since passed, James Kolar, one of the former D.A.’s lead investigators, says, “No one is ever going to be charged in this case.”