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Links to JonBenet Are Unclear

The teacher arrested in the 1996 slaying says he was with her when she died. Some have doubts.

August 18, 2006|Richard Fausset, Ralph Vartabedian and Lee Romney | Times Staff Writers

BOULDER, Colo. — The complex portrait that began to emerge Thursday of John Mark Karr, the American arrested this week in the 1996 slaying of JonBenet Ramsey, suggested he was a troubled schoolteacher with a record that included child pornography charges but no clear links to the victim or even to Colorado, the state where the crime occurred.

A calm, neatly dressed Karr, appearing at a news conference at a Bangkok, Thailand, detention facility, told reporters he was with the 6-year-old girl when she died.

"I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet," he said. "It's very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, that her death was unintentional, that it was an accident."

Asked whether he was innocent, Karr replied: "No."

But Boulder Dist. Atty. Mary T. Lacy declined to comment on what evidence her investigators had implicating Karr. "Do not jump to conclusions, do not rush to judgment, do not speculate," she said. She also indicated that public safety concerns and fear that he might flee had prompted her to have Karr arrested before her investigation was complete.

Many investigators and lawyers who have been following the case for a decade said that although they hoped authorities had the right person, they were skeptical of Karr's confession.

"At this point, I haven't heard anything very reassuring that we have the right person," said Trip DeMuth, former senior deputy district attorney for Boulder County who was on the Ramsey case from the start until 2000, when he left the office. "It is disconcerting. I am hoping that they based the arrest on corroborating evidence."

Craig Silverman, former chief deputy district attorney in Denver, said that if the case goes to court, Karr's confession could prove to be "next to nothing."

"This confession seemed delusional," he said.

Silverman said that under Colorado law, prosecutors could not obtain a valid conviction without evidence that corroborates a confession. In addition, he said the confession seemed illogical. He said that although Karr called JonBenet's death an accident, her brutal slaying could hardly qualify as such.

Whatever it was, the crime exploded into one of the most notorious mysteries of the last quarter-century, fueled by mainstream and tabloid interest and coverage from 24-hour news channels.

It started with a phone call. JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, dialed 911 from her family's Boulder home about 6 a.m. on Dec. 26, 1996. She reported that her 6-year-old daughter had been kidnapped. She also said she found a ransom note demanding $118,000 for the girl's return -- the amount of the bonus that had recently been awarded to her father, John Ramsey.

Later that day, John Ramsey reported finding his daughter's body in the basement, wrapped in a sheet. Her mouth had been taped. A garrote was around her throat.

In the decade since, critics have accused investigators of bungling the investigation, including the handling of key evidence. A grand jury met for 13 months, but it did not return an indictment in the case when it concluded its work in 1999.

Homing In on Karr

Law enforcement officials said they began focusing on Karr only in the last several months.

In May, prosecutors were given hundreds of e-mails from a person now believed to be Karr that had been sent to Michael Tracey, a University of Colorado journalism professor. Tracey has produced three documentaries on the Ramsey case and has argued that police erred in suspecting the Ramseys in their daughter's death.

Tracey said in an interview that he had been communicating with Karr for four years and in May went to prosecutors with the e-mails. He declined to discuss any specifics, but he said he believed that prosecutors were able to confirm that they came from Karr.

Patsy Ramsey was also the intended recipient of e-mails whose sender is now believed to be Karr, according to L. Lin Wood, the Ramseys' Atlanta-based attorney. But the notes were diverted to investigators in Boulder.

In one e-mail, the writer said he wanted to set up a meeting with the mother, according to Wood. Investigators asked whether she was game, and Patsy Ramsey said she would do so if it would help the investigation, Wood said. But the 49-year-old died in June of ovarian cancer before any such plan was set up.

Since Karr's arrest, one of his early statements to investigators appears to contradict official findings. He told investigators he drugged and sexually assaulted JonBenet, according to an Associated Press interview with Thai police. But her autopsy did not reveal the presence of drugs.

Equally puzzling is how he came to "love" the girl -- or even know her at all. The Karrs and the Ramseys lived in Georgia in the late 1980s. The Ramseys moved to Boulder in 1991, a year after JonBenet was born. It is unclear where the Karrs were living then. So far, no records suggest that John M. Karr ever lived in Colorado. JonBenet's father has said he doesn't think he knows Karr.

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