From: Oakland Tribune
Cracks in the confession of John Mark Karr, combined with the unusual caution of Boulder prosecutor Mary Lacy, fueled skepticism Thursday about the apparent break in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case.
Karr, detained on Wednesday in Thailand, made some questionable claims to reporters in Bangkok while admitting to the 6-year-old’s December 1996 slaying — a crime he called an “accident” when a kidnapping scheme went bad.
But Lara Knutson, Karr’s ex-wife, maintains that Karr was nowhere near Boulder the night JonBenet was murdered. Knutson is searching for personal photos or documents to prove it, she said through an attorney.
“She’s got homework to do, she’s going to go through old records, photographs, home movies — anything she has from that time period to show that (Karr) was with his family that Christmas,” said attorney Michael Rains, standing in front of the Petaluma home Knutson shares with her three sons. “It’s been 10 years, but you would think she’d remember if her husband wasn’t around on Christmas.”
Meanwhile, Boulder District Attorney Lacy emphasized a presumption of innocence for Karr and, in language that seemed to discount his emergence as a suspect, explained that sometimes arrests are made before an investigation is complete.
“The primary reason is public safety,” Lacy told a press conference outside the Boulder Justice Center. “A secondary reason is fear of flight. In short, exigent circumstances can drive the timing of an arrest.”
Karr had begun work as a second-grade teacher at an international school in Bangkok on Tuesday. He’d been convicted on child pornography charges in California in 2003.
To longtime Denver defense attorney Larry Pozner, Lacy’s words betrayed an obvious lack of confidence in the case against Karr in the JonBenet murder.
“I never heard a prosecutor give a speech about the presumption of innocence,” Pozner said. “Come on, prosecutors brag about their case every day and she looks up and says it would be irresponsible to talk about the facts. She isn’t saying I have a weak case. She is saying I may have no case.”
What Karr has said — and what he has declined to say — cast some doubt on his involvement in the decade-old crime.
Karr reportedly said that he’d picked up JonBenet at school — even though the crime was committed on the day after Christmas when school wasn’t in session.
Karr said he drugged and sexually assaulted JonBenet before realizing he had killed her. But an autopsy found no trace of drugs in JonBenet’s system, and evidence of sexual assault was inconclusive.
“There’s a huge inconsistency there,” said Laurence “Trip” DeMuth, who was once one of the lead prosecutors in the JonBenet murder case.
Karr described the killing as an accident, even though JonBenet had been beaten and strangled with a garrotte.
Asked how he gained entry to the Ramsey’s home in Boulder, Karr wouldn’t comment.
Asked what happened to JonBenet, he sidestepped the question.
“It would take several hours to describe that,” he told the Associated Press in Bangkok. “It’s a very involved series of events that would involve a lot of time. It’s very painful for me to talk about it.”
Karr also said: “It’s very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, that her death was unintentional, that it was an accident.”
Lacy declined to discuss evidence in the case on Thursday. Ultimately, DNA evidence could prove a vital link or the key to eliminating Karr as a suspect. Authorities took a DNA sample from him in Bangkok and will take another sample when he returns to the U.S., Thai police told the Associated Press.
So far, Karr’s only publicly known link to the Dec. 26, 1996, crime remains his confession. Even his presence in Colorado at the time of the murder remains in doubt.
Knutson told San Francisco television station KGO-TV on Wednesday that he was with her in Alabama during the 1996 holiday season. Records also show that Karr was enrolled in an Alabama community college at the time.
“There’s reason to take this confession not just with a grain of salt, but with the whole container,” said criminal justice professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston. “Certainly it would be far too quick to say the case is closed.”
Former Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent John Lang, who often assisted Boulder police in their investigation, said he never heard Karr’s name mentioned and also urged caution when assessing his confession.
“Everything in this case was leaked from the get-go,” he said, adding that investigators should be wary of a Ramsey fanatic fabricating a rather detailed confession. “So many people are infatuated with this case.”
But John San Augustin, a private investigator hired by the Ramseys to look into the murder, speculated that significant evidence probably supports a judge’s signature on an arrest warrant.
“They have the probable cause to make an arrest,” San Augustin said. “It is more than just the confession.”
The case file and arrest affidavit are sealed.
Lacy would not put a time line on Karr’s return to the United States. But officials in both the U.S. and abroad indicated that it’s unclear what legal authority could compel Karr to leave Thailand, and whether he would be deported or extradited.
Removing Karr from Thailand is “not a done deal now,” said Verasak Premaree, first secretary at Thailand’s embassy in Washington.
University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey, whose e-mail exchange with Karr led to law enforcement’s interest in the 41-year-old teacher, repeated his long-held belief that JonBenet’s parents, John and the late Patsy Ramsey, had nothing to do with her murder.
But in an impromptu interview session following Lacy’s press conference, he declined comment on Karr or the content of his e- mails and said exoneration for the Ramseys didn’t lie with any particular suspect.
“The exoneration will be when the killer is found, whoever he is,” Tracey said. “I do not believe John and Patsy Ramsey had anything to do with killing JonBenet. I don’t believe the evidence supports it. I believe the evidence supports the opposite. I believe an intruder killed JonBenet — whoever it was.”
Lou Smit, a special investigator hired early in the case by then- Boulder DA Alex Hunter, would not comment on recent developments, except to say that, “The killer lies at the end of the intruder path.”
Meanwhile, more details about Karr’s recent stay in Thailand emerged.
In May, he got a job at Bangkok Christian College, a an elite, 5,000-student grade school and high school for boys, according to a teacher at the school who requested anonymity.
“This is the power base of wealthy families,” said the teacher. “The sons of government ministers attend the school. They really protect their image.”
Karr taught a class for 6- and 7-year-old boys but was fired about a month into his three-month trial period, the teacher said, because he would yell at kids and was extremely strict with them.
“He just reminded me of another kooky teacher who was out of place,” the teacher said. “He didn’t smile. He wasn’t friendly. He kept to himself.”
Karr had a checkered marital history, records show.
In 1984, he married Quientana Shotts when she was 13 and he was 19. In Shotts’ subsequent annulment proceedings a year later, she claimed to be “fearful for her life and safety.”
In 1989, Karr got his then 16-year-old girlfriend, Knutson, pregnant so they could marry legally in Georgia, according to divorce papers filed by Knutson in 2001, after Karr had been jailed for possession of child pornography.
She wrote that her husband was demanding, cut her off from family and friends and blamed her for a miscarriage. She asked for a restraining order to protect her and the couple’s three sons.
Knutson also claimed in the petition that her husband had been told by one school where he worked in either 1997 or ’98 that he couldn’t substitute teach any more because of a “tendency to be too affectionate with the children.”
She said she thought nothing of the remark until she became aware of the child pornography charges. The court granted her restraining order and awarded Karr no visitation with his children.
Although Knutson might be able to provide an alibi for Karr in the JonBenet murder, she willingly assisted authorities investigating his child pornography case.
“She has no vested interest in the Ramsey case,” Rains said. “She wants to be a good witness for authorities to resolve the case.”
An online resume Karr posted on the Internet cast him as a world- traveling teacher and caregiver to children, although several of his claims couldn’t be confirmed.
He listed teaching jobs in Honduras, Costa Rica, South Korea and the Netherlands.