Relatives Dispute Karr's Account of Whereabouts

By Amy Goldstein and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The father and brothers of John Mark Karr, the man arrested last week on suspicion of killing JonBenet Ramsey in Colorado the day after Christmas a decade ago, do not recall his ever missing Christmas dinner in Atlanta or traveling to Colorado after the holiday, a lawyer for the family said yesterday.

Gary C. Harris said that the suspect's father, Wexford Karr, found a photograph indicating that his son was part of the family's Christmas gathering in 1996, the day before the child beauty queen was found strangled in her home in Boulder.

The Christmas Day photograph does not include John Karr but shows his three sons, who Harris said never attended the holiday dinner without their parents. Although the photo is undated, the lawyer said the family is certain it was taken in 1996, because an infant pictured in it, Karr's nephew, was 2 weeks old that Christmas.

The account of Karr's father and two brothers deepens the uncertainty of whether the 41-year-old teacher was responsible for the killing. Last week, Karr told reporters after his arrest in Thailand that he had been with the 6-year-old when she died.

A former wife of Karr, who was married to him in 1996, also has said she remembers that he was with her and his family during Christmas that year. An attorney for Lara Knutson, who lives in Northern California and was married to Karr for a dozen years until 2001, said she has "a great deal of contempt" for her ex-husband but wants to give investigators accurate information. Harris, the attorney for Karr's father and brothers, said they have had little contact with her since the divorce, though they remain in touch with her teenage sons by phone.

In an interview, Harris, of Clayton, Ga., said Boulder County investigators were in Georgia yesterday and interviewed Karr's father, 85, and half-brother, Nathaniel Karr, 34, Sunday night. "I don't think they have the right guy," Harris said, based on conversations with the family.

The matching recollections from different parts of Karr's family emerged yesterday as the suspect spent his first known day back in the United States in five years being held as a fugitive in a windowless cell in the Los Angeles County jail. Escorted by representatives of the Boulder County district attorney and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Karr arrived Sunday night on a flight from Bangkok. He has not been charged with any crime related to JonBenet's death.

This morning, Karr is scheduled to appear in court in Los Angeles County for a hearing to determine how rapidly he will be transferred to Boulder. It was unclear yesterday whether Karr plans to waive or contest his extradition to Colorado. A spokeswoman for the Boulder County district attorney said that if he waives extradition, sheriff's deputies from Boulder will have 10 days to retrieve him.

Reached at his father's home in Atlanta yesterday, Nathaniel Karr said the family hopes to arrange to see his brother. "We don't even know how to do that yet," he said. Harris, who said he has known the family for two decades, said that, until John Karr's arrest last week, "they thought he was dead. They really did."

Karr was last known to have been in the United States in 2001. That spring, he was arrested on child pornography charges in Sonoma County, Calif., where he and his family had recently moved. He spent five months in jail and, shortly after his release, skipped a pretrial court appearance. He did not contact anyone in his family after that. Résumés he posted on various Web sites said he held brief teaching jobs in Europe and Asia. A doctor at a Bangkok clinic that specializes in sex-reassignment hormone therapy and surgery has confirmed that Karr was a recent patient.

Harris said that none of Karr's relatives remembers his ever missing Christmas celebrations before he disappeared five years ago. Moreover, he said, they do not think Karr has ever been in Boulder or ever took a trip right after Christmas. "If he had flown to Colorado or somewhere at that time, they would have remembered it," Harris said. "I mean, he wasn't a world-class traveler. . . . These people are not well-off financially," he said, adding that it would have been "a big deal" for him to take a trip by plane.

Harris said that Karr's father and brothers "are frantically looking for" other photographs from their Christmas gathering in 1996.

Before Karr disappeared, Harris said, he had a "pretty normal relationship with the family," adding: "I just think he has some emotional problems."

Staff writers T.R. Reid in Denver and Sonya Geis in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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