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8/30/2006

Case left without ‘umbrella of suspicion’

By John Sarche
The Associated Press

BOULDER — The public disintegration of the case against John Mark Karr has left prosecutors without a prime suspect in the decade-old slaying of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

“We don’t have any umbrella of suspicion,” District Attorney Mary Lacy said during a marathon news conference Tuesday. “Right now, we don’t have a suspect that we are looking at as someone who committed this crime.”

This despite investigating some 200 people in the years since the girl’s body was found on the day after Christmas 1996. Despite dozens of leads — most of them bogus — called into authorities enough to “tie up the lines,” as one investigator put it.

Lacy calmly defended her decision to bring Karr halfway around the world to Colorado, saying it was difficult to separate fact from fantasy in his lurid confession because every detail of the slaying is public knowledge.

In addition to Karr’s graphic account of JonBenet’s death, Lacy said, his obvious predilection for little girls forced her hand. She said Karr was observed by federal agents paying unusual attention to a 5-year- old girl at a Thai school — and that was the “turning point for everyone.”

“We felt we could not ignore this,” she said. She said a forensic psychologist told authorities Karr “was dangerous,” and perhaps “escalating” toward an assault or worse.

So Karr was arrested. And in the day since Lacy’s office announced it was dropping the case against him, the district attorney has been bitterly criticized by defense attorneys and by Gov. Bill Owens, who accused her of wasting thousands of dollars on the “most expensive DNA test in Colorado history.”

For 90 minutes, Lacy patiently explained why authorities spent at least $9,300 to bring Karr back from Thailand after he balked at a more sophisticated DNA test that could have ruled him out as a suspect in the 1996 slaying of the girl at her Boulder home.

Lacy said she wanted the investigation done quietly, but details leaked to the media.

She said her office has checked out scores of suspects over the years and dealt with “dozens” of false confessions. The problem, she said, is that there is nothing left that only the killer would know.

“As far as we can tell, there is no physical evidence in this case that has not been in the public domain,” Lacy said. “The ability of our office or any law enforcement to connect this kind of a person — based on something they know about it that no one else knows — was gone a long time ago.”

Lacy said she has received calls from people calling for her to be “tarred and feathered” and “run out of town.”

“The decisions were mine,” said Lacy, who will be forced out of office by term limits in 2008. “The responsibility is mine, and I should be held accountable for all decisions in this case.”

Karr is being held at the Boulder jail until he can be sent to Sonoma County, Calif., to face five child pornography charges dating to 2001.

District Judge Roxanne Bailin on Tuesday ordered Karr sent to California by Sept. 13, saying he had violated terms of his bond in that state by failing to show up for a hearing on the pornography charges. If convicted, Karr could get a year in prison on each count.

Karr’s father and brother, Wexford and Nate Karr, were at the Boulder jail on Tuesday but left without commenting.

Karr spent years corresponding by e-mail and talking by phone with a Colorado journalism professor, who tipped off authorities. Karr claimed that he accidentally killed JonBenet during a ritualistic sexual encounter.

His claims included personal details investigators were able to verify, including the fact that his mother tried to burn him when he was a child, Lacy said.

That suggested he might be telling the truth about being a killer, even though his references to everything from JonBenet’s bracelet and runny nose to her bludgeoned skull can be easily found in books or on the Web, prosecutors said.

“This guy confessed on numerous occasions in great detail,” said Peter Maguire, a deputy district attorney. “He confessed in e-mails, he confessed in telephone conversations. ... He admitted it to a police officer. This was a bizarre crime and the person who committed this crime acted in a bizarre way.”

Ultimately, DNA tests on blood in JonBenet’s underwear failed to connect Karr to the crime, and investigators had no evidence he was even in Boulder at the time.

“John Karr inserted himself into this,” Lacy said. “I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for John Karr. I have sympathy for his family.” Prosecutors said they have received fresh tips since they arrested Karr, but none seem promising.

Lacy said she was frustrated as the 10-year anniversary of the slaying approaches. “I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t want to solve this crime with the right person,” she said. “We still very much hope that it will be solved at some point.”

As for Karr, Lacy said she will cooperate with Sonoma County authorities “to get him convicted, registered, treated and supervised.” “I also know that at least every parent in this country has seen his picture and knows his name, so you have some ability to protect yourself against him,” Lacy said.

Along Boulder’s Pearl Street pedestrian mall, Tim Shaughnessy of nearby Louisville, said he was surprised by the media attention and law enforcement effort dedicated to Karr’s arrest.

“Ten years ago, I could see it,” he said. “Today? Why even bring him back here to Colorado if you don’t have something on him?”

As for the money spent bringing back Karr from Thailand, Shaughnessy was ambivalent. “As long as my streets are plowed in the winter,” he said.

Associated Press writers Chase Squires in Boulder and Kim Nguyen and Sandy Shore in Denver contributed to this report.