- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

BOULDER, Colo. — Murder suspect John Mark Karr’s return to the United States puts Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy in the hot seat.

If she can make the case that Karr killed JonBenet Ramsey 10 years ago, as she says, her legacy would be assured as the prosecutor who finally solved what had been deemed the perfect crime.

If not — if it turns out Karr is merely, as skeptics suspect, an obsessed fan and serial confessor who never set foot in Colorado — then Mrs. Lacy risks compounding the Boulder County justice department’s reputation for bungling with another Ramsey-related embarrassment.

Within days of Karr’s arrest Wednesday in Bangkok, questions were mounting about whether her office had overreached by bringing him in before the case was solid. Although she was tipped off about Karr in May, investigators did not start gathering evidence from some key witnesses, notably his ex-wife, until after his arrest.

Lara Knutson, who married Karr when she was 16, has yet to be interviewed by Boulder investigators, her attorney, Michael Rains, said last week, although he noted that he has been in contact with Boulder officials since the arrest.

Her recollections could be critical to the case, because she says he spent Christmas 1996 with her and their children in Alabama. Six-year-old JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in her family’s Boulder home Dec. 26, 1996.

Boulder investigators did not request a handwriting sample from the Marion County School District in Hamilton, Ala., until the day after the arrest, according to the Denver Post. JonBenet’s killer left behind a handwritten three-page ransom note that offers some of the mysterious case’s best evidence.

James Cohen, a professor at Fordham University Law School, said prosecutors “possibly jumped the gun,” suggesting that it would have been more prudent to arrest Karr on Thai charges and gather more evidence before making the link to the Ramsey case.

“I think [the case] blows up,” said Mr. Cohen. “Already there’s too much on the record to show that it couldn’t be so.”

Denver lawyer Scott Robinson agreed that the evidence so far indicates that Karr isn’t “the real deal,” but he defended Mrs. Lacy’s decision to arrest him when she did.

“She’s right in bringing the guy back. Absolutely right,” said Mr. Robinson, a longtime Ramsey case analyst. “It’s a murder case, so it’s a no-brainer.”

The problem isn’t Mrs. Lacy’s timing, he said, but the leak that alerted the press to the arrest, making it impossible for investigators to conduct the probe out of the public eye.

“She had a duty to check this individual out. She said herself she would have preferred to conduct this in private,” said Mr. Robinson. “If you’re going to point the finger at anyone, it’s the individual who leaked this information to the press. I know she must be madder than a wet hen that she has to conduct this investigation in public.”

Others, including the Ramsey family, argue that a prosecutor with Mrs. Lacy’s experience — she was elected district attorney in 2000 and re-elected in 2004 — must have as-yet-unseen evidence beyond Karr’s confession to justify the arrest.

“She would never do something when she knows the world’s eyes are on her,” said Pam Paugh, the sister of JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey, who died of ovarian cancer in June. “She’s not just going to go out there willy-nilly and pick some nut case.”

Her critics, however, drew parallels to her actions in another high-profile investigation, the 2002 University of Colorado (CU) football team rape case.

During that investigation, Mrs. Lacy announced that a student had been raped and accused the football program of using alcohol and sex as recruiting tools.

Ultimately, however, she charged the five players with contribution to the delinquency of a minor for supplying alcohol and drugs at a campus party, admitting she lacked the evidence for a rape charge.

Later, her office dropped the charges against one player, Ron Monteilh, saying he had been “misidentified.”

“She botched horribly the CU football case,” said Denver lawyer Dan Caplis, a talk-show host on KOA-AM, adding that “you just cannot trust her judgment.”

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