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8/27/2006

Karr defense fights to keep DNA private

Chase Squires
The Associated Press

BOULDER — No matter how John Mark Karr’s defense tries to keep his DNA evidence out of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, legal experts say it is probably a runaway train bound for the courtroom.

“I think that John Mark Karr’s DNA has already been compared,” former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman said Saturday. “I surmise that John Mark Karr’s DNA has already been tested and that this occurred before he was ever arrested in Bangkok, Thailand.”

Karr is scheduled to appear in court Monday for his initial advisement hearing.

Amid a flurry of legal motions filed Friday, public defender Seth Temin asked the court to block any sampling or testing of Karr’s DNA and argued that “if such a sample has already been obtained it was not obtained pursuant to applicable law.”

Karr, 41, was arrested in Thailand earlier this month and accused of the Dec. 26, 1996, murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey at her family’s Boulder home. The case has vexed experts for a decade.

Silverman, a prosecutor for 16 years and a regular commentator on the case, said not only is DNA easy to obtain legally without a suspect ever knowing, but it would have been a “dereliction of duty” for prosecutors not to seek that evidence before arresting Karr.

Silverman said he believes prosecutors either collected evidence from a napkin, utensil or even from an envelope before seeking a warrant. Further testing, which he said a court will undoubtedly approve, would simply be to verify what prosecutors already have.

Boulder County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Carolyn French said Saturday that professional conduct rules and a judge’s gag order prohibited her office from commenting on evidence.

Scott Robinson, a Denver defense attorney versed in the case, said the public defender’s office likely knows testing is inevitable, but is experienced enough to know attorneys must get some control of the case.

Even if DNA has been taken without Karr’s knowledge, comparing it to the minute samples of DNA taken from the scene could leave the defense without its own samples. The defense at least wants to be present for future testing, he said.

“As O.J. (Simpson) has taught us, there is a possibility of contamination at the lab,” Robinson said.

In another development Saturday, a Colorado attorney caught in the controversy over who would represent Karr said she is not involved in the case.

Temin has insisted his office is Karr’s sole representative, despite claims by California attorneys Jamie Harmon and Patience Van Zandt that Karr hired them. Rachel Cohen, who joined the Colorado bar in October, denied reports she has agreed to help Harmon and Van Zandt.

“There has been significant interest and speculation regarding my possible involvement with Mr. Karr,” she wrote on her Web site. “I am issuing this statement to clarify that I have not represented him and will not be representing him. ... We are fortunate in Colorado to have what may well be the best public defender system in the United States.”

Harmon and Van Zandt were further marginalized Friday when District Court Judge Roxanne Bailin ordered that “any private person, professional or not” must obtain written permission from Temin before contacting Karr.

Denver attorney Larry Pozner, a former public defender, said Temin and his team have done an outstanding job in a short time. Their actions should end any confusion over who represents Karr, he said.

The phrase “professional or not” in Bailin’s order is rare and important, Pozner said. It blocks any attorneys from offering their services without Temin’s approval.