Questions Surround JonBenet Suspect

By Amy Goldstein and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 18, 2006

The arrest of an American former schoolteacher in the decade-old killing of JonBenet Ramsey created a tangle of questions yesterday about whether the sensational crime has finally been solved, even as the suspect told reporters in Thailand that he had been with the child beauty queen when she died.

With no public evidence linking John Mark Karr, 41, to JonBenet's strangling or to Colorado, where the slaying occurred, the Boulder County district attorney emphasized yesterday that the arrest had been made "early in the investigation" and that "the analysis of the evidence in this case continues on a day-to-day basis, on an hour-to-hour basis."

Meanwhile, the image of Karr that began to coalesce yesterday from public records and people who knew him is of a man who has long had what his ex-wife said in divorce papers was "a tendency to be too affectionate with the children."

Karr had an earlier marriage to a girl who was 13 when they wed. He had a peripatetic history of brief jobs in schools. He abruptly quit a teaching internship in Alabama his last semester of college, after complaints about his behavior in class. A year later in California, he was jailed -- though never convicted -- on child pornography charges, skipping out on a court appearance soon after his release and eluding police.

Despite this history, a variety of contradictions surfaced yesterday that challenged Karr's avowed role in JonBenet's death, which he called an accident. According to a Thai police officer briefed by U.S. authorities, Karr said that he had drugged and sexually assaulted the 6-year-old girl before she died. Her autopsy, however, reported no indication of drugs and inconclusive evidence of whether she had been raped, according to the Ramsey family's lawyer.

Karr's second ex-wife, Lara Karr, told a San Francisco television station that they had been together in Alabama on Dec. 26, 1996, when JonBenet's beaten body was found in her family's home in Boulder. Karr was attending a community college in Alabama at the time.

The girl's father, John Ramsey -- who, with his late wife, Patsy, was for years under what police called an "umbrella of suspicion" in the case -- was reported by a Denver television station to have said that he could not recall any connection with the suspect. When JonBenet's body was found, police found no evidence of forced entry into the family's house.

At a news conference in Boulder, the district attorney, Mary Lacy, was asked whether she is concerned that the rare full confession could prove false.

"We can't comment on the evidence in this case at this time," Lacy replied. Quoting John Ramsey's words from the day before, she said: "Do not jump to conclusions, do not jump to judgment, do not speculate."

Karr is the first person arrested in the case. The nine-year investigation sparked a bitter feud between police and prosecutors in the Colorado university town, accompanied by countless articles and hours of newscasts spinning theories in the case. Karr's name never came up.

Lacy said yesterday that Karr was arrested in Bangkok on Wednesday, the day after he began to teach at an international school there. She said her office had provided Thai authorities with a sealed statement to support their application for an arrest warrant but did not say what evidence it contained.

Karr has not been charged with any crime. Yesterday, Ann Hurst, attaché of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Thai government, said at a news conference that Karr will be taken within the week to Colorado, where he will face charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault.

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