JonBenét Ramsey's Brother Sues CBS for 'Extraordinary' $750 Million Over Docuseries
Burke Ramsey has filed a second defamation lawsuit over a recent CBS docuseries that advanced the theory he killed his younger sister, JonBenét
Burke Ramsey has filed a second defamation lawsuit over a recent CBS docuseries that advanced the theory he killed his younger sister, JonBenét, more than two decades ago, PEOPLE confirms.
After suing forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz in October for $150 million in damages, lawyers for Burke on Wednesday filed another civil suit — this one, naming CBS as well as Critical Content LLC, the production company behind The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, and seven experts and consultants featured in the special, which aired over two nights in mid-September.
PEOPLE obtained a copy of the second suit, which seeks $250 million in compensatory damages and $500 million in punitive damages.
In addition to listing Spitz as a defendant, the suit filed Wednesday names retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent and criminal profiler Jim Clemente; criminal behaviorist Laura Richards; Jim Kolar, a former lead investigator in the JonBenét Ramsey murder investigation; forensic linguistics expert James Fitzgerald; statement analyst Stanley Burke; and forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee.
Stanley Burke and Fitzgerald declined to comment on the suit. Clemente, Kolar, Lee, Richards and Spitz could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. An attorney who has previously represented Critical Content said he was unable to comment and would forward a message, which did not immediately receive a response.
CBS declined to comment. In a previous statement following the suit against Spitz, the network said, “CBS stands by the broadcast and will do so in court.”
According to Ramsey’s suit, the action was filed to “redress the permanent damage” to Burke’s “reputation resulting from defendants’ false accusation that he killed his sister, JonBenét Ramsey.”
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L. Lin Wood, the Atlanta-based lawyer who represents Burke, could not be reached for comment. He previously warned such litigation was coming, making good on that promise Wednesday.
In a previous interview with PEOPLE, Wood called the CBS broadcast an attempt to get ratings and noted that officials aired the program during September “sweeps” in an attempt to draw in viewers.
The civil lawsuit alleges the network damaged Ramsey’s reputation by purposely ignoring substantial evidence that the suit alleges cleared the entire Ramsey family from suspicion in the 6-year-old beauty pageant queen’s 1996 slaying, which remains unsolved.
JonBenét was found dead in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado, in December 1996. Though the Ramsey family long faced suspicion, including from police, in JonBenét’s death, they have never been charged and have always maintained their innocence.
On the CBS special, the team of seven experts theorized that Burke, who was 9 at the time of his sister’s death, may have accidentally killed JonBenét.
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In the broadcast, the docuseries team theorized that JonBeneét took a piece of Burke’s pineapple on Christmas night, enraging him. They alleged Burke could have grabbed a flashlight and hit her on the head.
“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 based primarily on a preconceived storyline scripted in a self-published and commercially unsuccessful book, Foreign Faction, written by Defendant James Kolar and published in 2012,” the suit alleges.
The suit denies the theories advanced in the CBS special, and it further takes issue with a staged demonstration in which a young boy beats a pig skin “clad with a blonde wig to create the image of Burke killing his sister.”
The suit contends the special has caused Burke to suffer significant damage and harm, including financial damages, mental anguish, and damage to his reputation.
Expert: $750M Damages Are ‘More of a Bargaining Chip’
Asking for $750 million in a defamation suit is not that uncommon, since damage to one’s reputation is hard to quantify, according to Delaware Law School Dean Rod Smolla.
Smolla, who is unconnected to the case, tells PEOPLE the immense figure “is more of a symbolic statement than a realistic expectation.”
While acknowledging $750 million is “a large” sum of money, he believes that number was chosen “to recite the seriousness of the case and the outrage the plaintiff feels.” Smolla adds, “It is probably not realistically what Burke Ramsey or his attorney, Lin Wood, really expect to recover. It’s more of a bargaining chip — a posturing maneuver.”
But Michigan attorney Aaron Larson, who is also unconnected to the case, calls the damages figure “extraordinary.” He says it is “the sort of damages claim most commonly associated with an effort to generate attention and publicity.”
He explains that “in many defamation cases, a plaintiff will be concerned about attracting attention to the allegedly false accusations by filing a lawsuit. [But] in some cases, having additional media attention can be beneficial, by bringing additional attention to any retraction, apology or settlement … or to what they anticipate to be a favorable jury verdict.”
Smolla doubts the figure sought will factor into how the case is resolved.
“What will matter is what is revealed during the discovery process,” he tells PEOPLE. “Burke Ramsey has to prove the story [presented by CBS] is false, so the burden of proof is on him to show that he did not murder his sister, and that’s not impossible.
“He can assemble his evidence, and a jury could find it believable. He just has to show that CBS was negligent in asserting he was involved. He will have to demonstrate people who viewed that show came away with the impression that he was the one who did it.”
Smolla anticipates it’ll be well over a year before this case is closed, and suspects both parties will “recalculate their odds of winning and losing” after discovery.
“They may come to some sort of settlement,” he says. “You always start off with a strong complaint and a strong statement by the plaintiff, and the defendant saying that we stand by this story. Those positions may evolve as the evidence develops.”
• With reporting by ADAM CARLSON