- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — John Mark Karr’s own words — written and spoken — landed him in the criminal spotlight, but it was a series of law-enforcement failures that let him walk free.

Mr. Karr was released from jail Thursday after Sonoma County authorities lost crucial evidence in a five-year-old child pornography case. His freedom came more than a month after DNA evidence cleared him of suspicion in the 1996 slaying of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, whom he claimed to have been with when she died in Boulder, Colo.

The case demonstrates the stakes prosecutors face when dealing with high-profile victims or defendants, legal analysts said.

“They probably had a sense it might be difficult to patch together a five-year-old case,” said Joseph L. Stogner, a professor at Empire Law School in Santa Rosa, Calif. “But imagine the second-guessing that would take place if they allowed a no-bail arrest warrant to stay outstanding on an international figure who had repeatedly expressed his very fixed interest in very young girls.”

After fleeing prosecution on misdemeanor porn charges in 2001, Mr. Karr, who was living in Thailand, regained the attention of law-enforcement authorities this summer. A Colorado journalism professor with whom he had exchanged e-mails reported that Mr. Karr claimed he accidentally killed JonBenet during a ritualistic sexual encounter.

Mr. Karr was arrested on suspicion of murder and returned to the United States in August after telling reporters he was with JonBenet when she died. In Boulder, authorities acknowledged their investigation was in its “very early stages.” Four days later, they were certain Mr. Karr was innocent — his DNA didn’t match the genetic material on JonBenet’s body.

Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy said it was Mr. Karr’s confessions and fascination with a young girl in Thailand that led to his arrest. She said she relied heavily on e-mails and phone conversations Mr. Karr had with professor Michael Tracey.

James Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who observed the Karr proceedings in both Colorado and California, said Miss Lacy likely thought Mr. Karr was dangerous.

“Maybe that’s not the proper motive for a DA,” he said. “But who wants to be the one to let him go?”

In California, Mr. Karr had been investigated for child pornography possession in 2001 after an informant reported being concerned about his obsession with JonBenet. Sonoma County sheriff’s investigators questioned him, searched his home and confiscated his computers.

He was charged with five counts of possessing child pornography after authorities purportedly found images of children on one of his computers. He spent six months in jail awaiting trial and was released on Oct. 5, 2001, on a promise to return for a January trial. Instead, he fled.

When he was returned to California, missteps ensued.

Prosecutor Joan Risse revealed Sept. 4 that the computer hard drive authorities had seized from Mr. Karr was lost. Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Giordano said he realized it was missing Aug. 18, but didn’t tell Miss Risse until Aug. 30 because he was confident it would be found.

Then, Miss Risse announced that a “mirror image” of Mr. Karr’s hard drive created in 2001 also had been lost. A few hours later, it was found.

Defense lawyer Robert Amparan again challenged the evidence. He claimed there was no way to know what Mr. Karr accessed on his computer and when because the machine was missing and the backup copy had been reused by the sheriff’s department. He said the computer hadn’t worked since 1998, two years before Mr. Karr moved to California from Alabama.

Finally, on Thursday, prosecutors acknowledged they couldn’t put together a case against Mr. Karr that was provable “beyond a reasonable doubt” and asked a judge for a dismissal.

“He’s not a pedophile. He’s not a child molester,” said another of Mr. Karr’s defense lawyers, Gayle Gutekunst.


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