JonBenet Mentioned In '01 Probe Of Suspect

By Amy Goldstein and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 19, 2006

Five years before John Mark Karr was arrested this week as a suspect in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey, law enforcement officials in California investigating him on child pornography charges suspected he may have been involved in the death of the 6-year-old girl, according to a former attorney for the suspect.

Marie Case, who represented Karr on the 2001 misdemeanor charges, said yesterday that members of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department mentioned to her at the time that "there was possibly some involvement" in the Ramsey slaying 1,200 miles away in Boulder, Colo. -- "just saying, 'Hey, we're looking at this guy.' "

The old suspicions about Karr, 41, emerged yesterday as one of his former wives combed through old family photos, mementos and financial records to establish whether Karr was with his family on Dec. 26, 1996, the day the girl's battered body was discovered. Karr told reporters this week that he was with JonBenet when she died.

Michael L. Rains, an attorney for Lara Knutson, who was married to Karr for a dozen years until late 2001, said yesterday that she is looking for tangible evidence to reinforce -- or perhaps refute -- her memory that her then-husband spent that day after Christmas with her and their three sons in Alabama, where they lived at the time.

Rains said that Knutson "really absolutely detests" Karr and added: "Believe me, her better instincts would be to find some way to bury him for the rest of his life." But he said that Knutson, who lives in Petaluma, Calif., is preparing to meet with Boulder County investigators, probably next week, and wants to give an accurate account.

On Thursday, the Boulder district attorney said that Karr had been arrested in Bangkok early in the investigation and that law enforcement officials are continuing to evaluate evidence.

Case, his former attorney, said in an interview that she did not know the depth of the investigators' suspicion in 2001 that her client could have had a role in the death of the girl, a winner of child beauty pageants. But she said it "seemed somebody dropped the ball." She said that she was not contacted by law enforcement officials from Boulder and that no one sought to test her client's DNA to determine whether it matched evidence from the crime. "It never went anywhere," she said.

Yesterday, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department would not comment on the 2001 case, including whether law enforcement officials had thought Karr could be linked to JonBenet's death. "Our first responsibility must be to protect the investigations into Mr. Karr, both in Sonoma County and Colorado," said the most recent news release issued by the department.

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office referred calls to the prosecutor's office in Boulder. The secretary in the Napa County District Attorney's Office, where the detective who handled the child pornography case works now, declined to transfer calls to his office. In Colorado, the Boulder County District Attorney's Office referred all inquiries to a recorded media line.

On Wednesday, a California Superior Court judge granted prosecutors' request to seal the police reports that had led to Karr's arrest on the child pornography charges.

Those charges were lodged against Karr less than a year after he moved with his family from rural Hamilton, Ala., to Petaluma, a small town in the California wine country, in the summer of 2000. Several acquaintances from Alabama, interviewed yesterday, said they never understood why the family left. "We didn't even know they moved until they were gone," said one former neighbor, Carol Williams.

Starting in early 2001, Karr worked sporadically as a substitute teacher. That April, Sonoma County detectives informed him that he was under suspicion for child pornography based on a confidential tip. Investigators searched two homes in Petaluma and seized two computer hard drives, a laptop computer and other equipment that belonged to Karr.

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