Karr Won't Be Charged In Death of JonBenet

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By Amy Goldstein and T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

BOULDER, Colo., Aug. 28 -- Prosecutors dropped their case against John Mark Karr in the decade-old killing of JonBenet Ramsey on Monday, abruptly ending a 12-day whirlwind that reached halfway around the globe and riveted public attention over whether the slaying of the child pageant star had at last been solved.

Less than two hours before a court hearing here in which the 41-year-old teacher was to have been charged with murder, the Boulder County district attorney announced that investigators had not gathered enough evidence against him. In court documents and a public statement, District Attorney Mary Lacy said that Karr's DNA did not match samples from the crime scene and that family members had provided "circumstantial evidence" that he was with them in Atlanta during Christmas in 1996, when the 6-year-old girl was killed.

At mid-afternoon, a sheriff's deputy went to Karr's cell in the Boulder jail and told him he was being released. The deputy began driving Karr to an undisclosed location in town, but turned around and brought him back to jail: Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle said he had just received a teletype from law enforcement officials in Sonoma County, Calif., saying they wanted Karr transferred there. Karr faces an outstanding arrest warrant in Petaluma, Calif., on unrelated misdemeanor charges from 2001 of having child pornography on his computer.

Legal experts who have followed the Ramsey case over the years disagreed over whether the prosecutor had botched the investigation by arresting Karr. But both critics and defenders of the district attorney said the dramatic and confusing events of recent days may make it more difficult for prosecutors to win a conviction if a more compelling suspect is found.

Monday's tumultuous reversal came less than two weeks after Karr became the first person arrested on suspicion of killing JonBenet, who was found strangled in the basement of her family's home here. Karr was apprehended in Bangkok, where he had just started a job teaching second-graders at a private school. As Thai police led him through an immigration detention center past a crush of reporters, the suspect said he had loved JonBenet and had been with her when she died.

"No evidence has developed, other than his own repeated admissions . . . to establish that Mr. Karr committed this crime," District Attorney Mary Lacy told the court. Judge Roxanne Bailin then granted Lacy's motion to terminate the case against Karr.

On Monday, for the first time, the prosecutor disclosed more than 400 pages of e-mails spanning four years and transcripts of telephone conversations from June to Aug. 12 between Karr and a professor who has specialized in the case.

In the four years of e-mail correspondence with University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey, Karr, who uses the alias "Daxis," details his obsession with JonBenet and what he describes as his sexual experiences with girls. Late this spring and early this summer his contact with Tracey increased, and he gave what he said were more specifics about JonBenet's death.

In the first phone call, Karr told Tracey he had engaged in sexual activity with JonBenet, whom he described as "an incredible little girl with maturity beyond her years."

In one e-mail in April, Karr asked Tracey to tell the girl's parents that "a person you feel strongly to be JonBenet's killer (I hate that term) wishes to speak to them, to explain what happened that night and to explain also that there was never any intention to kill her."

In this heavily politicized university town and around Colorado, politicians and legal experts were deeply divided over the sudden end to what had seemed a remarkable breakthrough in one of the nation's most notorious unsolved murders -- and whether the district attorney acted wisely in transporting Karr from Thailand.

In the days after the arrest, fragments of the suspect's past came to light that deepened the mystery of whether his avowals of his role in JonBenet's death were credible. Relatives and others who have known him depicted an intelligent but troubled man who was attracted to young girls and appeared obsessed with the Ramsey case.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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