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1/12/1997

Sheriff looking for leak source

by Joe Southern
Daily Times-Call with wire reports

BOULDER -- Police are unsure how publication of crime scene and autopsy photos of JonBenet Ramsey will impact the investigation into the murder of the 6-year-old beauty queen.

``We're still assessing that,'' Boulder Police Department spokesman Kelvin McNeill said Saturday night.

The Boulder County Sheriff's Department is investigating how six photographs came to be in possession of the Globe weekly tabloid. The newspaper is publishing the photographs in Monday's edition.

McNeill declined to answer any further questions about the case except to say that the sheriff's department is investigating the case.

A press release from the sheriff's department said three deputies are working over the weekend to probe ``at sources both inside and outside the Coroner's Office. A private contractor whose name is being withheld processes photographs for the Coroner's Office.

``Coroner's staff and others have been formally interviewed by the investigators in the last 24 hours,'' the statement says. ``Additionally, several leads are being pursued. The person or persons responsible may face criminal and civil penal ties.''

The press release also says the next statement will be issued on Monday and that no further statements would be made by either the sheriff or the coroner until that time.

The Globe photographs show the garrote used to strangle the young beauty queen as well as a rope mark on one wrist.

Tony Frost, editor of the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Globe, said the 1.3-million circulation weekly showed the photos to a top Pennsylvania coroner, who assured him that publishing the photos wouldn't harm the murder case.

It has been widely reported that JonBenet was strangled with a garrote and that her wrists were bound, and pictures of that are the essence of the case, Frost told The Associated Press.

``The photo does not actually show the body,'' he said. ``I think we handled it very professionally and very sensitively.

``I am the father of three children. I have a daughter only two years older than this little girl. So we're not tabloid journalists who have three heads and no heart.''

The Ramsey family called Globe editors ``jackals, not journalists'' and urged other media to not publish or televise the photos. The family, in a statement, said their attorneys will ``pursue all available avenues of legal recourse.''

Spokesmen for two supermarket chains in the Denver area, Safeway and King Soopers, said they will not sell the new issue of the Globe.

The girl's body was found Dec. 26 after her mother called 911 to report she had found a ransom note on a stairway and that her daughter was missing. Her father found the body in a basement room about eight hours later.

Family spokesman Patrick Korten defended the police silence that has surrounded the case, saying authorities need time to solve the case without distractions. ``The most important thing is to make sure this investigation proceeds,'' he said.

Police Chief Tom Koby has asked journalists to ``back off'' and defended the lack of details from investigators. ``It's simply a desire to have their curiosity satisfied, and it has no purpose,'' he said.

Media attorney Tom Kelley, who led an unsuccessful attempt to get documents including a search warrant unsealed in the case, disagreed.

``I don't think it's morbid curiosity at all,'' Kelley said. ``People want to know so they understand what is happening in their community involving a serious crime.''

He granted that there's a need for some limits on what police say during an investigation, ``but that need has been far exceeded.''

``When a case like this occurs, there is not only a grieving process for the family, but a community catharsis as well,'' Kelley said. ``I think the absence of information on what is happening is preventing that catharsis. I think that's unhealthy.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.