IMAGE: John Mark Karr
Rick Bowmer  /  AP
John Mark Karr rides in a police vehicle Monday as he arrives at the Boulder County Jail in Boulder, Colo., shortly before prosecutors decided not to charge him in the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey.
updated 8/29/2006 2:14:34 PM ET 2006-08-29T18:14:34

The prosecutor in the JonBenet Ramsey case acknowledged Tuesday that some people want her “tarred and feathered” for pursuing John Mark Karr’s now-debunked claims, but she said separating fact from fantasy was difficult because so much of the evidence is public knowledge.

A day after the case against Karr was dropped, District Attorney Mary Lacy and her team defended their decision to bring Karr to Colorado from halfway around the world on a flight that included champagne in business class.

Lacy said she wouldn’t change a thing about how she approached the investigation, except perhaps making a stronger effort to keep details from the media. She said Karr’s graphic, detailed claims and his growing fascination with at least one girl in Thailand forced her hand.

“We felt we could not ignore this, we had to follow it. We also had ... there was a real public safety concern here directed at a particular child,” she said. Lacy added that a forensic psychologist “advised that this person was dangerous, this person was escalating.”

She said it is difficult to be sure about any suspect’s claims because every bit of physical evidence in the case has been disclosed to the public over the past 10 years. Lacy said some 200 people have been investigated in the case over the years.

“This guy confessed numerous occasions in great detail,” said Peter Maguire, a deputy district attorney. “He confessed in e-mails, he confessed in telephone conversations ... he admitted it to a police officer. This was a bizarre crime and the person who committed this crime acted in a bizarre way.”

JonBenet’s father found the little girl’s body in the basement of their Boulder home on the day after Christmas 1996. For years, suspicion has focused on either an intruder or the girl’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey.

Karr, who in e-mails and telephone conversations expressed a fascination with JonBenet and Polly Klaas, a murdered California girl, said after his arrest in Thailand this month that he was with JonBenet at the time of her slaying, which he called an accident.

But DNA tests did not match Karr to material found on the girl’s body. Prosecutors suggested in court papers that Karr was just a man with a twisted obsession who confessed to a crime he didn’t commit.

Prosecutor takes responsibility
Lacy has been sharply criticized from Colorado's governor and others for detaining and arresting Karr. She acknowledged that and told reporters she has received citizen calls calling for her to be “tarred and feathered” and “run out of town.” Republican Gov. Bill Owens said Lacy, a Democrat, “should be held accountable for the most extravagant and expensive DNA test in Colorado history.”

“The decisions were mine,” said Lacy, estimating the Karr investigation cost at least $9,300. “The responsibility is mine and I should be held accountable for all decisions in this case.”

Lacy, whose statement was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm at the courthouse, also said investigators surreptitiously took DNA samples from Karr from multiple locations before he was detained.

“We couldn’t get his consent because he didn’t know he was under investigation and we couldn’t alert him at that time,” she said.

Karr made some “pretty bizarre” claims in hundreds of pages of e-mail conversations with a Colorado professor, who alerted authorities to Karr’s claims, Lacy said.

But she conceded that authorities were not able to confirm that Karr was in Boulder at the time of the slaying. Investigators said they felt sure of his whereabouts until Dec. 23, 1996, three days before the girl’s body was found.

Karr was never formally charged in the slaying. In court papers, Lacy defended the decision to arrest him and bring him back to the United States for further investigation, saying he might have otherwise fled and may have been targeting children in Thailand.

California charges
Karr was being held at the Boulder jail until he can be sent to Sonoma County, Calif., to face misdemeanor child pornography charges dating to 2001. An extradition hearing was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

If convicted in Sonoma County, Karr could face a maximum of one year in prison and a $2,500 fine on each count, said Don Steier, a California defense attorney who has been involved in high-profile sex crimes cases.

JonBenet’s aunt, Pamela Paugh, said Tuesday that she wasn’t terribly shocked to learn that Karr’s public confession to being with JonBenet when she died didn’t hold up.

“I think one of two things is going on: Either he is quite disturbed, and in that respect needs a lot of help and care, or he has perpetrated quite the fraud on the American public and the victims’ families, and he needs help and a lot of care,” Paugh told CBS’ “The Early Show.”

“For us, this isn’t a story that ebbs and flows — this is real life. So we have to maintain a certain amount of calmness through anything that happens. Otherwise you can be on a rollercoaster every week of your life.”

Karr had made graphic claims in a series of e-mails about JonBenet’s killing, describing sexual acts with her, her death and writing at one point that he envisioned Johnny Depp playing him in a movie about how he killed JonBenet. He wrote that the movie would make $1 billion.

Trail of lurid claims
Lacy said Karr emerged as a suspect in April after he spent several years exchanging e-mails and 11 telephone calls with a University of Colorado journalism professor who had produced documentaries on the case.

The District Attorney’s office released explicit details of statements Karr had made in those exchanges with professor Michael Tracey, who had alerted authorities. Karr told the professor he accidentally killed JonBenet during sex and tasted her blood after he injured her, prosecutors said.

“Are you asking me why I killed JonBenet? I don’t see it that way,” Karr wrote in a May 22 e-mail. “Her and I were engaging in a romantic and very sexual interaction. It went bad and it was my fault.”

But the claims were lies, prosecutors said. The Denver crime lab conducted DNA tests Friday on a cheek swab taken from Karr and were unable to connect him to the crime.

“This information is critical because ... if Mr. Karr’s account of his sexual involvement with the victim were accurate, it would have been highly likely that his saliva would have been mixed with the blood in the underwear,” Lacy said in court papers.

She also said authorities found no evidence Karr was in Boulder at the time of the slaying. She said Karr’s family provided “strong circumstantial support” for their belief that he was with them in Georgia, celebrating the holidays.

When Karr was arrested in Thailand, Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood pronounced it a vindication for JonBenet’s parents. Patsy Ramsey died of cancer in June.

On Monday, the attorney said: “From day one, John Ramsey publicly stated that he did not want the public or the media to jump to judgment. He did not want the public or the media to engage in speculation, that he wanted the justice system to take its course.”

Nate Karr, John Karr’s brother, said he was elated his brother would not be charged. “We’re just going to be celebrating with family,” he said.

But Scott Robinson, a Denver attorney who has followed the case from the beginning, said Karr may be charged with lying about his role.

“Seems to me there should be some criminal consequences,” he said. “He has cost the taxpayers an enormous amount of money.”

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