SANTA ROSA, Calif. — John Mark Karr was freed Thursday after a judge dismissed child pornography charges against the onetime suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey slaying because prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to take the case to trial.
Judge Rene Chouteau ordered Karr released immediately, bringing an end to his two-month odyssey in the U.S. criminal justice system after he was extradited from Thailand in the Ramsey case.
He left Sonoma County Jail flanked by his attorneys and rode off in a black Volvo SUV.
Karr, 41, had been extradited to Sonoma County last month after DNA evidence cleared him of the 1996 slaying of the child beauty queen in Boulder, Colo.
The Sonoma misdemeanor case fell apart when sheriff's investigators admitted losing vital computer evidence seized from Karr in April 2001 when he was working as a substitute teacher in Sonoma and Napa counties.
Defense lawyers tried unsuccessfully to get the charges dismissed and were seeking to have evidence barred from trial when prosecutors said they couldn't establish when the child porn images had been downloaded onto Karr's computer.
Prosecutors were seeking a conviction to force Karr to register as a sex offender. But even if they had been successful, they said, Karr would not have served any additional time in jail because he had spent several months behind bars awaiting trial in 2001 before he was released and fled the state.
Karr had been on the lam until his arrest in Bangkok, which created a media sensation when he told reporters he was with JonBenet when she died.
In Sonoma County hearings over the last two weeks, the defense had accused prosecutors of misconduct for not alerting a judge sooner that evidence was missing. The defense also said the search warrants were based on an unreliable witness with a history of mental illness.
Sheriff Bill Cogbill said he accepted the prosecutor's decision to drop the charges in light of the "current evidence standards and legal technicalities."
"We do acknowledge that there were some performance issues five years ago when we worked this case," Cogbill said in a statement.
"We're conducting an internal affairs investigation into these issues, and we're continuing an audit of our evidence handling procedures."