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Ramsey murder suspect spends night in jail; hearing Tuesday

By Jocelyn Gecker
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — John Mark Karr’s hours of champagne toasts and roast duck vanished the second his plane touched down on U.S. soil. By Monday morning, he was in a high-security jail cell awaiting transfer to Colorado to face charges in the killing of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

Karr was arrested at the airport on a warrant from Boulder County.

A helicopter whisked him to the Twin Towers jail shortly before midnight in a sobering end to a day that began in Bangkok and included fine dining, movies and small talk with his U.S. escorts aboard the Thai Airways flight. Colorado officials would not say what he might have told the escorts.

“He is going to be housed here in the men’s jail, kept in isolation in a 6-by-9 room with a bed, a toilet no windows and no phones,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore. “He’ll get jail chow, he won’t get king crab, I’ll tell you that.”

Karr was to be held in a “high power” cell for noteworthy inmates, checked by guards every 15 minutes, and separated from other inmates who often target suspected child molesters, sheriff’s officials said.

An extradition hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said. It was not known whether Karr had retained a lawyer.

Karr, who last week suddenly emerged as a suspect in a case long believed to have gone cold, told reporters in Thailand that he was with 6-year-old JonBenet when she died in the basement of her home on Dec. 26, 1996, but that her death was an accident.

U.S. officials have been silent about what Karr told them during interrogations.

While in Thailand, Karr had visited a clinic to have facial hair removed permanently because he wanted to prepare for a sex-change operation, a doctor said Monday.

The 41-year-old school teacher’s return to the United States was voluntary, and he wasn’t handcuffed before or during the 15-hour Thai Airways flight from Bangkok.

Dressed in a red, short-sleeve, button-down shirt and black tie, Karr was whisked through Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok. He chatted with fellow passengers at the departure gate.

Aboard the jet he took a window seat next to Mark Spray, an investigator with the Boulder County district attorney’s office. The escort also included a U.S. Embassy official and an agent with “Homeland Security” on his shirt.

In Colorado, Boulder County district attorney’s spokeswoman Carolyn French would not comment Monday on whether Spray obtained any information from Karr during the flight. She also would not comment on what specific charges Karr was being held on, saying the arrest warrant was sealed.

No counsel has yet been appointed for Karr in Colorado, French said.

Before takeoff, Karr took a glass of champagne from a flight attendant and clinked glasses with Spray, who sipped orange juice. Karr first dined on pate, salad, fried king prawn, steamed rice, broccoli and chocolate cake. He also had a beer — crushing the empty can with his hands — and then had a glass of chardonnay. Karr appeared to order the drinks himself.

He later dined on roast duck with soy sauce and yellow noodles, and for his third meal had pizza, chocolates and a bottle of Evian.

He sometimes conversed with Spray, who took notes on some of the remarks. Karr told an AP reporter that it was “small talk.”

Also during the flight, Karr flipped through movie channels, watched “The Last Samurai,” dozed and made several trips to the restroom accompanied by two guards. Each time the door was left slightly ajar.

At one point he changed out of the red shirt and tie, replacing them with a blue polo, but then changed back into the shirt and tie before the landing.

That Karr was flown in business class, drinking champagne and dining on gourmet food, didn’t sit well with some Boulder residents, who may end up footing the bill.

“I don’t think anyone who’s being extradited from a country should be schmoozing on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Brandon Pelcher, 25, a worker at the Boulder Book Store on the Pearl Street Mall. “(The case) is already a comedy of errors, and this just seems like another twist in a crazy saga.”

Hours before Karr’s departure from Bangkok on Sunday, a doctor at a clinic specializing in sex-change surgery said Karr had gone there for treatment.

“He was one of my patients,” Dr. Thep Vechavisit of the Pratunam Polyclinic said. He refused to provide further details.

Karr also had gone to the Siam Swan Cosmetic Clinic and its branches in Bangkok to have his sideburns and hair under his chin removed with lasers, Dr. Setthakarn Attakonpan said Monday.

“He wanted to prepare himself to do a sex-change operation,” said Setthakarn, a dermatologist.

Bangkok, where Karr lived on and off for two years, is regarded as a center for sex change operations. The Pratunam clinic advertises sex-change surgery for 1,625 — a bargain compared to U.S. prices, where male-to-female reassignment surgery can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Karr, once detained on charges of possessing child pornography, in recent years apparently traveled to Europe, Central America and Asia to search for teaching jobs. He taught in at least two Thai schools.

Associated Press Writers Christina Almeida, Peter Prengaman and Greg Risling in Los Angeles and Robert Weller, Judith Kohler and Kim Nguyen in Denver contributed to this report.