LOS ANGELES — John Mark Karr, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffs chained around his waist, waived extradition to Colorado on Tuesday to face murder charges in the slaying of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.
Karr spoke only briefly during a two-minute court hearing to confirm his decision. His blank expression changed only once when he slowly closed his eyes as the judge recited the charge of first-degree murder.
Although his public defender and a former defense attorney described Karr as eager to go, it was unclear when the 41-year-old teacher would be transferred. The Boulder County sheriff’s deputies would not discuss travel plans and Los Angeles jail officials said they had not yet been contacted about a transfer.
Deputy Public Defender Haydeh Takasugi, who represented Karr in the hearing, said he was concerned about having to appear in court wearing jail attire rather than civilian clothes.
“It’s going to taint any potential jury pool out there,” Takasugi said. “He was upset at that.”
Karr’s face has flooded newscasts since he was named a suspect in Bangkok last week in the long-unsolved slaying of the 6-year-old beauty pageant queen, who was found strangled in the basement of her Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996.
Prosecutors have not disclosed their evidence against Karr, and his family has said he was in Georgia at the time of the slaying.
Karr told reporters in Thailand before he voluntarily flew to Los Angeles on Sunday that he was not innocent in JonBenet’s slaying, explaining only that he was present when she died and that her death was an accident.
‘Perfect insurance policy’
In addition to first-degree murder, the charges against Karr in a sealed probable-cause arrest warrant include felony murder, first-degree kidnapping, second-degree kidnapping and sexual assault on a child.
The felony murder charge means prosecutors are either accusing Karr of killing JonBenet during the course of a sexual assault or kidnapping, or that he was present while someone else killed the girl.
Felony murder carries the same penalties as first-degree murder: either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
“It’s a perfect insurance policy for the prosecution in Colorado,” said former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman. “Even if a jury were to somehow buy that this was an accident, any death during the commission of a kidnapping or sexual assault is first-degree murder regardless.”
Jamie Harmon, an attorney who represented Karr when he was charged in 2001 with possessing child pornography in Northern California, downplayed Karr’s comments about the slaying.
“A confession is a legal term ... and the statements taken from Mr. Karr are primarily sound bites,” Harmon said outside court. “We have no idea what the context of the comments may be.”
Harmon also said Karr was injured by aggressive camera crews in Thailand and has three bruised ribs and bruises on his body.
Harmon said she and another attorney, Patience Van Zandt, would be advising Karr “in some capacity” but that she would not be accompanying him to Colorado.
“He wants to go now,” Harmon said. “Mr. Karr has been portrayed by the media as of late as being mentally unstable, attention-seeking, unwell, mentally unwell. And he is none of those things. He is anxious to have an opportunity to address the allegations against him, to be portrayed in a more accurate and complete way.”
The attorney said Karr was “not subject to ready categorization or easy answers.”
“You’ve heard the expression, ‘He marches to the beat of a different drummer?’ John Karr marches to the beat of a different drummer,” Harmon said.
She described him as intelligent and unusual.
“He is a different sort of person than most of us walking around on the face of the planet, and that differentness has been construed in the media as wrong or somehow unbalanced,” she said. “And I don’t find that to be true at all. I found him to be very engaging, very bright, very articulate and very, very much appropriate in his emotional response to what is going on.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Karr’s relatives said a photo has been located showing Karr’s three sons at a 1996 Christmas dinner gathering in Atlanta. Karr is not in the photo.
Lawyer Gary Harris said Karr’s father, Wexford Karr, found the photo, and relatives are certain that if the sons were there, John Karr would have been, too. He told The Washington Post and The Denver Post that the photo is from 1996 because an infant pictured in it was born in December of that year.
“If he had flown to Colorado or somewhere at that time, they would have remembered it,” Harris told The Washington Post.
Lara Knutson, Karr’s former wife, told Boulder authorities on Monday that she and Karr were either at their home in Alabama or at his parents’ house in Atlanta around Christmas 1996, according to Knutson’s attorney, Michael Rains.
“But if you are to say to her, ’Are you absolutely certain?’ she would say, ’No,”’ Rains said. “She has not said to the authorities that her memory is infallible.”
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