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2/21/1997

Photo thieves to apol

by Pam Regensberg
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER -- John and Patsy Ramsey will receive heart-felt apologies from the two Boulder men responsible for the publication of autopsy photographs of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey .

Brett Allen Sawyer, 37, and Lawrence Shawn Smith, 36, pleaded guilty to obstructing governmental operations and were sentenced Thursday for their roles in the photo theft and subsequent publication of those pictures in The Globe a tabloid newspaper.

Smith pleaded guilty to an additional charge of false reporting to authorities for initially denying any knowledge of the theft.

``Their pain and suffering at this child's murder is unimaginable and by selling the photographs of this family's dead child, you made her an object for people to ogle,'' Boulder County Judge Lael Montgomery told the men.

Sawyer was ordered to pay $500 to the district attorney's office and forfeit the $5,000 he received from Globe Communications Corp. Smith must pay $200, the amount he received for providing the photos to Sawyer.

Smith said he was so upset at what he did that he flushed the money down the toilet.

The men were also ordered to complete 64 hours of community service, though Chief Trial Deputy Peter Hofstrom asked the court to sentence them to 200 hours each.

Immediately after the hearing, both men were taken to jail to begin their three-day sentences.

Montgomery told Sawyer and Smith that the letters -- containing what is ``in your heart'' -- to the Ramsey family must be submitted to the DA's office within 24 hours of their release from jail. The DA's office will make the letters available to the Ramseys .

``I never thought my actions were criminal,'' Sawyer told the court. ``I acted with no malice.''

Since their Jan. 15 arrest, Sawyer and Smith said they have suffered professional and financial ruin. Sawyer, a private investigator and a former Boulder County sheriff's deputy, has lost many of his clients. Smith was immediately fired from the Boulder photo lab where he had worked for 10 years and has been unable to find a job since.

Authorities said the men's trouble began with a telephone call. On Jan. 3, a Globe Communications representative called Sawyer. He said he wanted information and crime-scene photos of the JonBenet murder investigation.

Aware that Boulder officials used Photo Craft Laboratories in Boulder for film processing, Sawyer immediately met with Smith, a longtime acquaintance and manager of the Photo Craft lab.

Within four hours of receiving that telephone call from the tabloid, Sawyer had obtained and turned over seven Boulder County coroner's photos to the publication.

``He has shamed himself in the community in which he lives,'' said Sawyer's attorney, Peter Schild, adding that his client cooperated with deputies to resolve the matter quickly. ``He's been ruined. He had an excellent reputation.''

Sawyer, reading from a written statement, said he did not know he was working for a tabloid newspaper. He believed he was helping a Florida publication obtain crime-scene photos to be examined by a Pennsylvania coroner, he said. The photos were to be used to verify the reporter's accuracy.

One photo contained a garrote -- a rope attached to a stick -- that was allegedly used to strangle JonBenet. Her body was found in a remote basement room of the Ramseys ' home.

Smith remained relatively silent during the proceeding, but said he was sorry for his ``poor judgement.''

Hofstrom said Smith had less involvement in the crime by giving the photos to Sawyer, but failed to cooperate with deputies. Smith's attorney, Mark Biddison, said his client did not realize what he was getting into when he was approached by Sawyer.

``He thought he was assisting in the investigation of this tragic crime,'' Biddison said. ``He wouldn't have jeopardized his entire career for $200.''