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8/18/2006

Case draws massive attention

Trevor Hughes
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Mary Lacy looked around at her staff and sighed.

A fire alarm on Thursday had temporarily forced the evacuation of the Boulder County Justice Center, just minutes after Lacy, the Boulder County district attorney, had finished a press conference during which she had faced more than 100 reporters clamoring for information about Wednesday’s arrest of a suspect in the 1996 JonBenet Ramsey murder.

But for a few moments, standing in the shade of the building, Lacy had a moment of peace.

In less than 24 hours, national and international media rediscovered Boulder and the world’s obsession with the JonBenet case following reports Wednesday that John Mark Karr, 41, had been arrested in Thailand. News reports said Karr confessed to causing the girl’s death.

At the press conference, Lacy pleaded with reporters to let her office continue its work on the case. With hundreds of reporters from “Inside Edition,” the national networks and international cable outlets competing for exclusive details and scoops, the pressure on Lacy and her staff will be unrelenting.

“There is much more work that needs to be done now that the suspect is in custody,” she said. “Our preference would have been to complete that work out of the public eye. That is obviously not possible this morning.”

Citing professional code, Lacy declined to answer any substantive questions about the case, from concerns about a false confession to how Karr might have known the family.

Lacy reiterated that Karr is innocent until proven guilty and said outside factors sometimes force prosecutors to move before they are fully ready.

“There is a great deal of speculation and a desire for a quick answer,” Lacy said. “We should all heed the poignant advice John Ramsey gave yesterday: Do not jump to judgment. Do not speculate. Let the justice system take its course.”

Lacy is no stranger to controversy: She helped launch a nationwide firestorm over the University of Colorado’s football team and accusations of rape by several women against players. CU’s president and football coach left as a result of the controversy, although no charges were brought.

The Karr arrest offers Lacy the opportunity to solve the JonBenet murder, which has hung over Boulder since Dec. 26, 1996. It also has the potential to tie up a vast amount of resources in prosecuting Karr and managing the hordes of media that will continue to throng the justice center.

Thursday offered a taste of what a trial would entail: Managing the media required dozens of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and security guards and a platoon of public information officers and media managers. And that was just for a press conference during which Lacy offered no new details.

But while the assembled reporters outside clamored for details, inside the Justice Center, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges carried on their normal duties, handling routine cases that will never make the local newspaper, never mind national television.

Several prosecutors, including Lacy, said they remain committed to ensuring that each case gets the same attention to detail as any other.

“I’m asking you this morning, let us continue to do our job thoroughly and carefully,” she said. “The analysis of the evidence in this case continues on a day-by-day basis.”

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.