A man named Raymond Donovan, who was President Reagan's secretary of labor, was implicated in a long-forgotten scandal early in the 1980s. Many years later, Donovan was totally vindicated, but he and his family had suffered enormous embarrassment, legal fees and heartache. On the day Donovan was cleared, he said, "Where do I go to get my reputation back? Who do I see about that?"
The Ramsey family today might be asking the same question. Six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was murdered on Christmas night of 1996. It is difficult to imagine a greater horror for any family to endure -- the brutal death of a beloved daughter, followed by years of suspicion that they were the ones who killed her. In 2003, they were officially cleared, after DNA tests on JonBenet Ramsey's clothing showed trace evidence of an unknown male -- but not any member of the Ramsey family. By that point, the case had largely disappeared from public view, destined, it seemed, to remain an unsolved mystery.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the charges against John Mark Karr, who was arrested yesterday in Bangkok. In a bizarre and chaotic press conference, Karr made damaging admissions -- that he was present when JonBenet died, that her death was accidental, and that he was not "an innocent man." In New York, the Daily News summed up the new developments with a banner headline -- "SOLVED!"
But maybe it's time to put to work some of the lessons from the Ramseys' ordeal. The case is not solved. Karr has not been convicted of anything. No physical evidence has been made public that ties him to the crime. His confession has not been corroborated. In a peculiar press conference earlier today, the Boulder district attorney, Mary Lacy, seemed to claim that her own investigation had a long way to go and that the only reason she ordered the arrest was that she was concerned that Karr might flee or abuse his young students in Bangkok. Those are worthy goals, but they don't prove that Karr killed JonBenet.
No one is more impatient than a journalist. We want our stories resolved -- SOLVED! -- as soon as we learn about them. But in this case, of all cases, it's a good idea to take a deep breath, wait for the charges, the evidence and even the verdict, and then make up our collective minds. Enough reputations have already been unjustly destroyed in the wake of this young girl's death.