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8/24/2006

Calif. warned of Karr in 2001

By Christina Almeida
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Colorado authorities were notified in 2001 about John Mark Karr’s “apparent fascination” with the JonBenet Ramsey murder by California detectives investigating him in a child pornography case, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Wednesday.

That notification is the earliest known time that Karr was brought to the attention of authorities investigating the 1996 slaying of the child beauty pageant contestant in her Boulder home.

The Boulder County district attorney’s office did not immediately return calls for comment on the statement. Sonoma officials noted that to protect both investigations, the statement was cleared with the Boulder district attorney’s office.

Karr remained jailed in Los Angeles on Wednesday awaiting transport to Colorado, where authorities issued a murder warrant for his arrest. He told reporters in Thailand last week that he was with JonBenet when she died and that it was an accident. His family contends he was with them in Georgia at the time of the Colorado killing.

The Sonoma County statement said Karr did not appear to have any special knowledge of the case.

Sonoma investigators learned about Karr’s fascination with the Ramsey case and that of Petaluma girl Polly Klaas, who was murdered in 1993, according to a statement issued by the department north of San Francisco.

The investigators gathered information from a Northern California woman, Wendy Hutchens, that included tape recordings and e-mails with Karr. The investigation also included search warrants, forensic examination of digital media and surveillance.

In some writings, “Karr mostly spoke of JonBenet Ramsey’s murderer in a manner that suggested he was an unknown subject, but one whom Karr was very interested in and curious about,” the statement said. It did not specify where the writings were found.

“In a few instances while he seemed to be wondering about the JonBenet Ramsey murder, he made uncertain allusions to placing himself in the killer’s role. However, we never uncovered any ‘confession’ statements, overt murder evidence, or other indications that John Karr possessed secret knowledge that only the murderer of JonBenet Ramsey would know,” according to the statement.

On the tapes, which have been aired by several broadcast media outlets, a man with a Southern accent is heard discussing the details surrounding JonBenet’s strangulation: “She was in a lot of pain before she died and suffered and was tortured. There is physical evidence of that. What a shame. It’s shameful. That person did that to the most beautiful girl in the world.”

The Sonoma department also noted Karr made references to two other crimes in two different states, including a child killing and a child molestation. Information about Karr was provided to the investigating agencies in all three states, including Colorado, the department said. The disclosure by the Sonoma County sheriff raised fresh questions about the work of Boulder authorities.

The police department in particular drew heavy criticism for allegedly failing to secure the crime scene, while former District Attorney Alex Hunter was accused by at least one investigator of trying to protect JonBenet’s parents.

Hunter stepped down and Mary Lacy took over as DA in January 2001 — a year marked more by libel allegations against former detectives and police officers than any public progress in the case.

“I worry that this information might have fallen through the cracks during the time the Boulder police and the DA’s office were bickering about JonBenet,” said former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman. “This guy should have gone on their radar screen.”

The pornography case in California remains open. Karr fled after being charged and an arrest warrant was issued. Sonoma County authorities have said they will allow the Ramsey case to be resolved before pursuing their case against Karr.

Boulder authorities have not revealed what evidence led them to go to Thailand to get Karr a decade after the slaying. His only legal appearance was a Tuesday hearing in Los Angeles at which he was represented by a public defender and agreed to go to Colorado.

On Wednesday, San Jose lawyers Patience Van Zandt and Jamie Harmon said Karr retained them to be his lawyers. Van Zandt represented Karr in his 2001 child pornography case.

Van Zandt said she personally likes Karr and felt he was under stress when he made self-incriminating comments.

“He’s tired,” she said. “I hope he’s beginning to relax and feel better. But he’s been through an awful lot. He’s exhausted, he’s terrified, he’s overwhelmed, he’s just about as stressed out as a human being can be.”

Sheriff’s deputies were closely monitoring Karr’s mental state and physical safety in jail.

A psychiatrist has met with Karr twice since he was brought to Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers jail Sunday night after arriving from Thailand, said sheriff’s Lt. George Vanecek. Deputies were looking in on him every 15 minutes.

“Because of the nature of the accusations against him, we are monitoring him both for his emotional safety as well as his physical safety,” Vanecek said.

Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Haydeh Takasugi, who represented Karr at Tuesday’s hearing, said Karr was on “suicide watch” and all items considered a possible danger to him were taken away.

“I’m not clear on whether or not Mr. Karr is suicidal, or they are very worried about him and want to take every precaution,” Takasugi said.

Takasugi said Karr told her on Monday that he planned to have the Boulder County public defender’s office represent him in Colorado and had turned away the San Jose lawyers.

Takasugi said she disagreed with Harmon’s assessment of Karr in interviews after Tuesday’s hearing.

“I believe there are a lot of issues regarding his mental health and his mental stability,” Takasugi said. “I do disagree with the attorneys stating he is lucid and there are no mental health issues.”

Harmon said the comments she made Tuesday described Karr as he was that day.

“We’re talking about a crime that occurred 10 years ago. So his state of mind as it is today or yesterday, which is the time that I was referring to him, and his state of mind 10 years ago are completely different issues,” Harmon said.

She added that Karr’s “incriminating statements were made days before I met him, so I can’t say under what circumstances those were made,” but that when she and Van Zandt spoke to Karr he was “lucid and clear.”

JonBenet was found dead Dec. 26, 1996, in the basement of her Boulder home. For years the case appeared to have gone cold. Her mother, Patsy Ramsey, died in June.

Karr, a 41-year-old school teacher, suddenly was identified as a suspect last week while he was in Thailand. In addition to first-degree murder, the counts against Karr in a sealed probable-cause arrest warrant include felony murder, first-degree kidnapping, second-degree kidnapping and sexual assault on a child.