- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy yesterday tried to dampen expectations over the arrest of a suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey slaying case, cautioning that the investigation is ongoing and that no charges have been filed.

“There is much more work that needs to be done now that the suspect is in custody,” she said at a press conference with other law-enforcement officials outside the Boulder County Justice Center.

Her comments fueled rising skepticism over the strength of the evidence against John Mark Karr, the clean-cut 41-year-old schoolteacher who was arrested Wednesday in Bangkok.

Karr confessed to the 1996 death after being taken into custody, authorities in Thailand said. He repeated his confession to reporters yesterday at a press conference with Thai police but insisted that the girl’s death was unintentional.

“I was with JonBenet when she died,” said a visibly nervous Karr, who also is wanted in Sonoma County, Calif., on child-pornography charges, which prompted him to flee the U.S.

“I know what happened to JonBenet. It’s very important to me that everyone knows that I love her very much. It was an accident,” he said.

Asked by a reporter at Bangkok’s immigration detention center whether he was “innocent” of involvement in the 6-year-old girl’s death, Mr. Karr replied: “No.”

According to an account of the arrest by Thai Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, Karr denied that he had committed “first-degree murder,” insisting, according to the general’s account, “Not first degree. Second degree. … It was not supposed to be.”

Within 24 hours of his arrest, however, questions about the validity of his confession began to surface. Some legal analysts, pointing to gaps in the case against him, suggested that he could be an attention-seeker or obsessive follower of the Ramsey case who has convinced himself that he was involved in her death.

“A lot of people are very skeptical about what he’s saying,” said Denver legal analyst Andrew Cohen on KCNC-TV, the local CBS affiliate. “A lot of people are wondering whether he’s trying to interject himself into the case.”

Those doubts were compounded by Lara Karr, the suspect’s ex-wife, who told KGO-TV in San Francisco that they spent Christmas 1996 together in Alabama and that she doesn’t think Karr killed JonBenet.

Skeptics also noted that JonBenet’s autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in her system. Karr told reporters in Thailand that he drugged the girl before molesting her.

More questions have surfaced about whether Karr has any connection to Boulder. Karr grew up in Hamilton, Ala., and has lived in Petaluma, Calif., and Georgia, but there is no evidence so far to show that he ever lived in or even visited Colorado. Before the Ramseys moved to Boulder in the early 1990s, they lived about 35 miles from Karr’s home in Conyers, Ga.

Mrs. Lacy acknowledged that the investigation is far from over and hinted that “exigent circumstances” may have prompted Thai authorities to arrest Karr before the case against him was complete.

“What I can tell you in a generic sense is that in all serious cases, we work hard with law enforcement not to make an arrest until the investigation is substantially complete,” Mrs. Lacy said.

“There are circumstances that may exist in any case which mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete,” she continued. “The primary reason is public safety. A secondary reason is fear of flight.”

Karr was arrested the day after he began working as a second-grade teacher at an international school in Bangkok, his latest posting in a series of education-related jobs he had held around the world since his fleeing from the child-pornography charges.

JonBenet was found bound, gagged and strangled Dec. 26, 1996, in a hidden room off her family’s basement. Police quickly zeroed in on her parents as the primary suspects, but no arrests had been made until Wednesday in what has become one of the most sensational unsolved slayings in U.S. history.

The Boulder District Attorney’s office began investigating Karr after receiving a tip from University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey, who began exchanging e-mails with the suspect four years ago.

Mr. Tracey, who has made three documentaries about the case, said yesterday that the suspect sent him “numerous” e-mails discussing the Ramsey slaying. Karr was known to be a close follower of the case and had even written a college paper about it, his father, Wexford Karr, told the Denver Post.

A few months ago, Mr. Tracey contacted Boulder investigators after the e-mails took a turn for the worse.

“Without arriving at any conclusions about his guilt or innocence, I did what I felt I had to do,” Mr. Tracey said.

Those following the case say the key could be the DNA evidence found under JonBenet’s fingernails and in her underpants. Police have never matched the DNA to a suspect. Karr has submitted to a DNA mouth swab in Bangkok, but Mrs. Lacy declined to say yesterday whether investigators had compared Karr’s DNA with the samples found at the scene.

Mr. Karr’s extradition to Colorado would be completed “within the week,” said Ann Hurst, Homeland Security attache at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, adding that Mr. Karr had not asked for a local lawyer or protested against extradition.

“We are not looking for other suspects at this time,” she said.

Richard Ehrlich contributed to this article, which was based in part on wire reports from Bangkok.

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