ATLANTA — Three dozen lawyers have offered to represent John Mark Karr — for free in many cases — against allegations he killed 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.
The tug-of-war among defense attorneys over one of the biggest criminal cases in recent years, one that has stoked interest because of perceived flaws in the prosecution’s case, raises questions about ethics and who has Karr’s best interests in mind.
“There’s something inherently wrong in hiring a lawyer who is volunteering to do it for publicity,” said Connecticut attorney Mickey Sherman, whose high-profile clients include Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel.
Two California attorneys say they have been retained to represent Karr, but another who was with him at his only court hearing in the case so far says Karr wants a Colorado public defender.
Larry Garrison, a producer Karr’s family hired to ferret out book and movie deals, says they want a big-time lawyer for the job. Some three dozen lawyers from around the country have already offered their services, many at no cost, he said Thursday.
“There are some people that are ambulance chasers, there are other people that legitimately want to help,” Garrison said.
Garrison, sounding exhausted, said he hasn’t returned any of the calls or e-mails from lawyers.
“To be honest, it’s a blur right now,” he said.
Defense lawyers say there is no rush for Karr to make up his mind on who will defend him, since the early hearings in the case are mostly perfunctory, and it would probably be better for a public defender in Boulder, Colo., who is familiar with the legal system there to handle matters for now.
“It would probably be helpful for him to have an adviser on that who is not the one who will eventually take the case, someone who has his best interests at heart who doesn’t have an economic motive,” said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. “The truth is, a lot of people don’t have that luxury.”
Allred also noted that even if Karr chooses an attorney now, he can always change his mind later.
“It’s obvious that John Mark Karr is not going to have the resources to pay an attorney,” Allred said. “Either he’s going to have a public defender or a private attorney who will do it at no cost to him, that would probably do it for the challenge and the visibility.”
Sherman and Allred said they have not sought out Karr to defend him.
On Wednesday, lawyers Patience Van Zandt and Jamie Harmon, whose office is in San Jose, Calif., said they had been retained by Karr. Van Zandt had represented Karr in a prior child pornography case.
But Haydeh Takasugi, a public defender who represented Karr at a hearing Tuesday, said earlier that Karr told her he planned to have the Boulder County public defender’s office represent him in Colorado and had turned away Van Zandt and Harmon.
Van Zandt and Harmon were both in court for unrelated cases Thursday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
The head of the Colorado state public defender’s office, David Kaplan, said that as of early Thursday afternoon, Van Zandt and Harmon had not contacted his office to say that they would be representing Karr in Colorado.
AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch in Los Angeles and Associated Press Writer Jordan Robertson in San Jose, Calif., contributed to this report.