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Virginian Pilot

The write stuff: Experts drawn into Ramsey case

The Virginian-Pilot
By John-Henry Doucette, Staff Writer

Norfolk – Two local handwriting experts have been drawn into the JonBenet Ramsey murder case by a New York Lawyer looking to jump-start the Colorado legal system.

The pair, David S. Liebman and Cina L. Wong of Norfolk, have found that samples of Patsy Ramsey’s handwriting match the jerky scrawl on a three-page ransom note found on the day 6-year-old JonBenet’s body was discovered.

These findings are at the heart of an unusual lawsuit the attorney, Darnay R. Hoffman, filed Nov. 19 in Boulder County district court. He claimed Patsy Ramsey was “very probably” the author of the ransom note and, using a rarely employed Colorado law in which a judge can order a prosecutor to file charges or appoint a special investigator, challenged the progress of District Attorney Alexander Hunter. A judge will decided this week whether the suit will get a hearing. Fellow handwriting experts recommended Liebman and Wong to Hoffman this fall. The pair thought they would turn over their work, then perhaps appear in court. “We never expected it to get past that,” Liebman said.

But it did.

Hoffman contacted media outlets around the country, and made Liebman and Wong available. They have fielded questions from reporters from Colorado to Norfolk’s Brambleton Avenue. Time magazine, NBC and “Larry King Live” called –though the suspender-clad host never got them on the air.

The experts are trying to take it in stride. “We’re just glad we can assist on this one,” Wong said.

In an affidavit supporting Hoffman’s complaint, Wong found 30 “points of similarity” between the writing samples and the note. Liebman found 51. In a document mailed to the judge Nov. 29, Liebman concluded “with a probability of 90 to 95 percent that Patsy Ramsey is the ransom-note writer.”

However, the pair said they do not know whether the unrehearsed samples were actually written by Patsy Ramsey. The samples were supplied by a Colorado attorney who will not reveal his sources.

This does not change the findings, Wong maintained. In their opinion, whoever wrote the samples, wrote the note.

Liebman has a string of degrees from Old Dominion University. He became fascinated with handwriting while studying the sciences and psychology two decades ago.

There are few formal routes into the profession, so much of his knowledge has been gleaned in creative study methods such as comparing the writings of the clinically disturbed.

Wong, 35, received mysterious handwritten death threats in high school. This, she said, later sparked her studies in handwriting analysis while attending San Jose State as a communications major.

Five years ago she heard of Liebman, president of the National Association of Document Examiners, and moved to Norfolk to study with him. She has quickly developed a reputation as an up-and-comer in the field.

Most of their work is done on the East Coast for employers who do not want notoriety. Cases have ranged from check fraud to identifying distorted writing.

They were skeptical when Hoffman contacted them.

Hoffman, 50, defended subway gunman Bernard Goetz in his civil suit. That 1996 trial, which Goetz lost, was Hoffman’s second trial, and his first as lead counsel. He had been admitted to the bar the previous August.

Before that he was a television producer who tried to flush chess champion Bobby Fischer from hiding. He also took the notorious Mayflower Madam, Sydney Biddle Barrows, to be his lawfully wedded third wife.

During the Goetz trial, The New York Times reported Hoffman’s “tangential connections” to law. His master’s degree is in marketing, though he did attend law school.

Hoffman, who’s working pro bono, persuaded Liebman and Wong to do the same. The pair received no payment past $250 Hoffman mailed them to cover initial expenses. Pro bono means “for free,” and most pro bono cases are taken as community service when clients cannot afford counsel. They are rarely in such high-profile matters.

Liebman and Wong say they are convinced of Hoffman’s integrity.

“Sometimes lawyers do things to help people,” Wong offered.

Both said they took the job because the evidence seemed convincing. The handwriting experts faxed copies of eight of the 51 connections they identified between samples and the letter to the Virginian-Pilot, then described how these results represented their findings.

Wong showed a copy of the note, then flipped to the final page, which begins, “ and you stand a 100 percent chance of getting her back.”

Liebman pointed.

“There,” he said. “The handwriting loosens up on the third page. That’s when the tendencies come out…. Look at the margin, how it slowly pulls to the left.”

That’s a characteristic that the samples and the note share, he said.

“It’s kind of like a fingerprint,” Wong explained. “You and I may have the same little bump here, but do you have all these here, here, here?” She pointed to different parts of her finger. “You can’t ID somebody from your nose alone. It’s a cluster of deviations.”

There was more. The r and o “bump” in the line about “a brown paper bag.” Three letters bump in the word “money.”

“And look,” Wong pointed to a line above a dot. “She loves to use exclamation points.”

Hoffman called their work “provocative, compelling and intriguing.”

Alexander Hunter, the district attorney, filed to dismiss Hoffman’s suit on Dec. 9, saying that his actions are “premature and not ripe,” since police have not concluded their investigation.

Hunter would not comment, but a spokeswoman said the motion speaks for itself. The document argued that Hoffman got involved to “obtain publicity.” Hunter’s motion questioned the motives of Hoffman, who does not practice law in Colorado and who does not have a client beyond himself.

“If Hoffman has standing,” the motion read, “any person in the nation and, indeed, the world, would have standing based solely on having read press reports about this case.”
Liebman’s and Wong’s findings are not addressed.

The murder investigation entered its second year Friday, and there have been no arrests. A report issued last year by the Colorado Bureau of Investigations did not rule out Patsy Ramsey as the ransom-note writer, but “evidence falls short to support that definitive conclusion.”

Liebman and Wong said their evidence is more damning. While they wait for the judge to rule on Hoffman’s case, they continue to work in support of Hoffman’s claim.

“There was a little girl murdered,” Liebman said, “and the handwriting people haven’t been able to tie it in so far.”

Hoffman may have been the lightning rod that drew Liebman and Wong into one of the most talked-about murder cases in American history, but the thought of shedding light on a mystery has kept them sifting through printed words, searching for clues in a ransom note that a year ago offered brief, false hope that JonBenet Ramsey might return home.

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