Did he do it? Legal observers have doubts
By BOB KEEFE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/18/06
Boulder, Colo. — Former Atlanta area resident John Mark Karr confessed Thursday to killing JonBenet Ramsey, and authorities here said he will be charged with the crime.
But after prosecutors showed extreme caution about the case, some legal observers are casting doubt on the latest twist in the 10-year-old mystery.
"He doesn't seem credible," said Craig Silverman, a former Denver deputy district attorney who has followed the case closely. "He's spewing nonsense."
Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson, who is also familiar with the case, said prosecutors have "every reason to be cautious. It would be hard not to have a healthy amount of skepticism about Karr's claims."
Harold Copus, president of Atlanta-based Investigative Solutions Inc. and a former FBI agent who did some work in the Ramsey case, also cast doubts about Karr's guilt.
"We're having the conviction party and I don't think we're there yet," he said. "We live in an instant society, and you can microwave popcorn, but you can't microwave justice."
He cited several reasons for his skepticism. "The ex-wife is saying, 'He was with me,' while he's saying, 'No, I was in Boulder, Colorado.' Somebody is lying," he said.
Second, "Yeah, we have a confession, but do we have a serial confessor? You always worry about that."
Abundance of cautionAt a news conference following his arrest in Bangkok, Thailand, Karr admitted he was present when the 6-year-old beauty queen died. The 41-year-old schoolteacher, who grew up in Conyers, reportedly said he "loved" her and that her death was "an accident." Later, Karr told reporters that he drugged the girl and raped her.
JonBenet's autopsy report made no mention of drugs and the means of her death — a severe skull fracture and strangulation by means of a garrote —appear to be inconsistent with the idea of an accidental death.
Other questions about Karr's role arose elsewhere. In California, his ex-wife told a television station that she was living with him in Alabama at the time of the Ramsey slaying, and that she thought he didn't do it.
Prosecutors and others involved in the case, meanwhile, expressed an abundance of caution when it came to implicating Karr. They gave no new details about how he became the No. 1 suspect.
"There is much more work that needs to be done now that the suspect is in custody," Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy said at a brief news conference here.
"John Karr is presumed innocent," she noted repeatedly.
Citing a statement by JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, she said, "Do not jump to judgment. Do not speculate. Let the justice system take its course."
Even a sister of JonBenet's mother Patsy Ramsey, who died in June of ovarian cancer, was hesitant to blame Karr.
"Don't take this guy to the gallows yet," said Pam Paugh, 47, of Roswell. "I don't know that he's any more the killer than you are."
Even when they have reams of evidence, good prosecutors are always cautious, said Jean Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor who's now a University of Southern California law school professor.
"But having said that, it seems like in this case there may well be some additional reasons to take it slowly," Rosenbluth added. "There are some things that don't seem to quite fit."
At her news conference, Lacy indicated that Karr's arrest was rushed, and that she would have liked to have investigated further before authorities picked him up. But she said, "there are circumstances that may exist in any case which mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete."
E-mail correspondenceKarr, who fled the United States after he was charged with five counts of possessing child pornography in California in 2001, had just started working as a second-grade teacher at a Bangkok international school, and was known for traveling easily around the world. He is expected to be flown back to the United States from Thailand as early as this weekend.
Lacy's investigation was revitalized several months ago after a University of Colorado journalism professor alerted investigators that he was having an ongoing e-mail correspondence with a man who turned out to be Karr.
Michael Tracey, who made a series of documentaries about JonBenet's death, said he started getting the e-mails about four years ago, after one of the films was released.
Thursday, Tracey declined to say what led him to contact the district attorney's office in May.
Initially, Tracey said, investigators expressed some skepticism about Karr's e-mails. He declined to discuss his own opinion about Karr, or to give any details about the e-mails. Discussing specifics, Tracey said, might jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
It also might subject Karr to the same sort of public scrutiny that the Ramseys once faced when police investigators and others here were hinting they might be responsible for their daughter's slaying, he said.
"The Ramseys were trashed ... and what happened to the Ramseys could happen to this guy," Tracey said.
Attention seekers cautionRosenbluth, the USC professor, said prosecutors are always worried about "attention seekers" who give false confessions.
"This could be someone living with a lie for 10 years and wanting to get it off his chest," she said. "Or he could be an attention seeker who confessed to something he didn't really do."
There's little doubt investigators here are being overly cautious about their handling of Karr in part because of past fumbles in the case.
In the days immediately following JonBenet's death, her parents became the focus of Boulder police investigators.
The police initially said evidence indicated someone who knew the girl and the house were responsible. The cited an odd handwritten ransom note and the fact that the girl was killed and found in her own home.
Later, police investigators leaked information to the media that raised public suspicions about the Ramseys. But the Ramseys maintained their innocence and their insistence that JonBenet was apparently killed by an intruder.
In 2003, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes in Atlanta ruled that the evidence she reviewed also suggested that it was an intruder who killed the little girl.
After hearing about Karr's arrest Wednesday, John Ramsey urged caution in jumping to any conclusions about Karr's guilt or innocence, while his Atlanta attorney lashed out at the media, saying the public's mind had been "poisoned" to believe the couple were involved with the killing of their daughter.
AJC staff writers Craig Schneider and David Markiewicz and The Associated Press contributed to this article.