Mary Keenan Was A Key Player In The JonBenét Case

by Kaitlin Reilly

There are some crime stories that become more than just cases of law and order; they become almost myths weaved into American culture. From the murder of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman to the Manson family slayings, certain crimes have an uncomfortable place in our history, not only because of the grisly nature of the crimes themselves but because what it reflects back on America as a society. This is certainly true of the 1996 murder of JonBenét Ramsey, a 6-year-old child and pageant queen who was found murdered in her parents' home in Boulder, Colorado. The crime received massive media coverage, and now, 20 years later, it's still a topic of discussion. There were many players in the Ramsey case, and an important one to know is Mary Keenan, a woman who made a big decision about potential suspects in Ramsey's murder.

Keenan — who is also known by her married name as Mary Keenan Lacy, or simply Mary Lacy — served as the head of the Boulder District Attorney’s Office for eight years, from Jan. 2001 through Jan. 2009. According to Keenan's biography on the website of her law firm Lacy & Maguire, she served as the Chief of the Sexual Assault Unit for 10 years prior to 2001. Though Keenan did not become the District Attorney until years after Ramsey was killed, it was she who had the final say in deciding whether or not to exonerate certain people of the crime. Twelve years after Ramsey was murdered, Keenan was a key factor in clearing Patsy and John Ramsey, JonBenét's parents, and their son, Burke Ramsey, of any suspicion of involvement in the crime.

In 2008, after examining newly developed "touch DNA" evidence, Keenan decided that Ramsey's family members could be exonerated for her murder, reports CNN. Though the Ramsey family was never considered actual "suspects" by the Boulder police, they were reportedly under an "umbrella of suspicion," according to CNN. NBC News reports that the district attorney's office released a statement which said that the DNA evidence presented proved that there was a possible third party in the Ramsey house who was the potential murderer. Keenan wrote a formal letter of apology to the family, which read:

To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry ... No innocent person should have to endure such an extensive trial in the court of public opinion.

The same DNA evidence was also used to exonerate John Mark Karr, a former schoolteacher who confessed to the crime.

Though the exoneration of the Ramsey family removed them from being considered suspects in the future, not all of them lived long enough to see that justice. Patsy died of ovarian cancer in 2006, just two years before Keenan would clear her of the crime. The Ramsey family lawyer, Lin Wood, told CNN in 2008 that Patsy's death is "...one of the sad notes of today's news, because she's not here with us to celebrate the vindication of her family." The lawyer went on to say, "This family suffered too many years, too many heartaches of being falsely accused in the murder of their child."


In 2010, Keenan was reported by Colorado Daily to be working as a defense attorney opposite her one-time top prosecutor Pete Maguire, under their law firm Lacy & Maguire. According to her interview with Colorado Daily, Keenan believes her new position can do some good: "We're not getting guilty people off. It's about having people assume responsibility and turn their lives around, and it's pretty gratifying."