Suspect confesses

doubts arise

`I was with JonBenet when she died'

Inconsistencies noted in statements to reporters, Thai authorities

August 18, 2006|By JUDITH GRAHAM | JUDITH GRAHAM,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BOULDER, Colo. -- John Mark Karr sparked an international news media spectacle yesterday by admitting that he was with child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey when she was killed in 1996, but the televised confession by the American in Thailand raised more questions than it answered in the decade-old mystery.

"I was with JonBenet when she died," the 41-year-old schoolteacher told reporters in Bangkok, touching off a frenzy of new interest in the case. Asked whether he was innocent, Karr answered, "No," without making eye contact.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Karr said he was "so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet."

"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," he said.

Appearing at a news conference yesterday, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy confirmed that Karr had been arrested in the killing and had been under investigation for "months." But she declined to discuss the evidence her office had gathered or say what charges will be brought.

"We should all heed the poignant advice John Ramsey gave" on Wednesday, Lacy warned reporters, referring to JonBenet's father. "Do not jump to judgment. Do not speculate."

Karr has apparently been living abroad since being released from a California jail in 2001 after an arrest on child pornography charges. He is being brought to Colorado, where he will face charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault, Ann Hurt, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said in Thailand.

But several inconsistencies arose in connection with Karr's statements to Thai officials and reporters, as detailed yesterday. To start, the man - who once lived near the Ramseys in Georgia - reportedly claimed to have drugged JonBenet and had sex with her before accidentally causing her death, according to a senior Thai police officer who spoke with the Associated Press.

But an autopsy report on the 6-year-old, who was found strangled in the basement of her family's home on Dec. 26, 1996, turned up no evidence of drugs or alcohol in her body. Sexual malfeasance was suggested by cuts in an area around her vagina.

And how could he come to "love" JonBenet Ramsey - or even know her at all? Karr and the Ramseys lived in Georgia in the late 1980s. The Ramseys moved to Boulder, Colo., in 1991, a year after JonBenet was born. It is unclear where Karr was living then.

So far, no records have emerged to suggest that Karr ever lived in Colorado. JonBenet's father has said he doesn't know Karr.

Also, Karr's former wife, Lara Karr, told KGO-TV in California that she was vacationing with him in Alabama when JonBenet was killed on the day after Christmas. And his father, Wexford Karr, told The Denver Post that he did not believe his son had ever been in Colorado. Both confirmed that John Mark Karr had been fascinated by the murder and conducted extensive research on the crime.

"There is tremendous reason for skepticism" about the confession, given Karr's evasions and the inconsistencies, said Larry Pozner, a Denver lawyer and past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "This guy can't get his story down."

Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor, said that if the case goes to court, Karr's confession could prove to be "next to nothing."

"This confession seemed delusional," he said. "He looked like a drugged-out Lee Harvey Oswald."

The strongest evidence would likely come from Karr's DNA samples, which have already been taken in Thailand and will be repeated when the suspect is brought back to the United States.

DNA discovered underneath JonBenet's fingernails and on her underwear has not been matched to the FBI database or other suspects.

In Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, visitors trickled in and out of St. James Episcopal Cemetery where JonBenet and her mother, Patsy, are buried. Throughout the day yesterday, well-wishers adorned the child's grave with miniature angels, a single rose and a small toy bear. Patsy Ramsey, who died in June of ovarian cancer, is buried in front of her daughter in an unmarked grave, still covered with red dirt from the funeral.

Patsy Ramsey's father, Donald Paugh, and her stepmother stayed inside their large brick home in Roswell, Ga., yesterday . They referred all questions to their daughter, Pamela Paugh.

In a CNN interview yesterday morning on the front lawn of her parents' home, Paugh said the family always believed the truth would come out.

"I'm not really certain there is a need for vindication because in my mind John and Patsy were never guilty of anything. Those who know them ... knew the truth, and we were just waiting for this day to come and we knew it would come," she said.

She also said she did not believe the killing was an accident.

"By what accident did you tie something around her neck and choke her? By what accident did you put an 8-inch crack in her skull? These things are not accidents," she said.

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