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Suspect: JonBenet Ramsey’s death ‘an accident’

An American expatriate school teacher told the public Thursday he was with JonBenet Ramsey when she died in what he called “an accident” a decade after the 6-year-old’s murder.
John Mark Karr was detained by U.S. and Thai officials Wednesday.
John Mark Karr was detained by U.S. and Thai officials Wednesday.Saeed Khan / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The prosecutor in the JonBenet Ramsey slaying urged the public not to “jump to conclusions” Thursday, hours after an expatriate school teacher in custody in Thailand claimed he accidentally killed the girl a decade ago.

Mary Lacy, who has led the investigation for Boulder County, did not disclose details about evidence against John Mark Karr, 41, who was arrested on Wednesday, a day after he began teaching second grade in Bangkok.

Karr told investigators he drugged and sexually assaulted the child beauty queen before accidentally killing her, said a senior Thai police officer, who was briefed about the interview.

“I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet,” Karr told The Associated Press after he appeared at a news conference earlier Thursday.

He will be taken within the week to Colorado, where he will face charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault, Ann Hurst of the Department of Homeland Security told reporters in Bangkok.

“I was with JonBenet when she died,” Karr told reporters afterward, visibly nervous and stuttering. “Her death was an accident.”

Asked if he was innocent of the crime, Karr said: “No.”

No evidence against Karr has been made public beyond his own admission. U.S. and Thai officials did not directly answer a question at the news conference about whether there was DNA evidence connecting him to the crime.

Suspect just started teaching
Lacy suggested that the arrest may have been forced by other circumstances, including the need for public safety and fear the suspect might flee. She noted that he had started teaching in the Thai capital on Tuesday.

“There are circumstances that exist in any case that mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete,” Lacy said.

She refused to say whether authorities were worried Karr was lying about killing the little girl. Lacy said Karr has not been formally charged, and declined to speculate what counts he might face.

“I’m asking you this morning, let us do our job thoroughly and carefully. The analysis of the evidence in this case continues on a day-by-day, on an hour-by-hour basis as we speak,” she said, adding that “there is much more work to be done now that the suspect is in custody.”

“We should all heed the poignant advice of John Ramsey yesterday,” she said, referring to JonBenet’s father. “He said do not jump to conclusions, do not rush to judgment, do not speculate, let the justice system take its course.”

Lacy said Colorado investigators were in Thailand, but refused to provide a timeline of when Karr might be returned to the United States.

JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colo., on Dec. 26, 1996.

Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, head of Thailand’s immigration police, said by telephone that he was told Karr claimed he had drugged the child and sexually assaulted her. Karr said he then realized he had “accidentally” killed her, according to the general. Suwat did not say who briefed him on the questioning conducted by U.S. law enforcement officials.

An autopsy done a day after her body was found showed no drugs or alcohol in her system but said she had vaginal abrasions.

Waiting on DNA test results
Karr was given a mouth-swab DNA test in Bangkok, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. The results of that test were not immediately known.

Karr will be given another DNA test when he returns to the United States, the official said.

Lin Wood, the Ramsey family’s longtime attorney in Atlanta, said Karr had sent numerous e-mails in recent months making statements about the murder to a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder studying the case.

Wood said those e-mails were key in linking Karr to the slaying. When asked if authorities could tell whether Karr had firsthand knowledge of the murder or had just picked up information from news accounts, Wood said: “There is information about the murder that has never been publicly disclosed.”

Karr’s ex-wife, Lara Karr, was quoted by KGO-TV in California that she was with her former husband in Alabama at the time of JonBenet’s killing and she does not believe he was involved in the homicide.

Lara Karr, who lived with him in Northern California, said her ex-husband spent a lot of time studying the cases of Ramsey and Polly Klaas, who was abducted from her Petaluma, Calif., home and slain in 1993.

Wood said that Karr had tried to correspond with JonBenet’s mother, Patricia, in the months before her recent death from ovarian cancer. Wood said Ramsey did not reply, but handed that information over to investigators who used it to link Karr to the case.

Karr on Thursday refused to say what his connection was to the Ramsey family. An attorney for the Ramsey family said Wednesday that Karr once lived near the family in Conyers, Ga.

'I love her very much'
In Thailand, as Karr was escorted to his guesthouse to pick up his belongings, he told the AP: “I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet. It’s very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, that her death was unintentional, that it was an accident.”

Asked what happened when JonBenet died, he said: “It would take several hours to describe that. It’s a very involved series of events that would involve a lot of time. It’s very painful for me to talk about it.”

He told the AP he made “several efforts to communicate with Patricia before she passed away ... and it is my understanding that she did read my letters.”

Suwat, the Thai immigration police official, said Karr insisted that JonBenet died during a kidnapping attempt that went awry.

“He said it was second-degree murder. He said it was unintentional,” Suwat said.

Suwat quoted Karr as saying he tried to kidnap JonBenet for a $118,000 ransom but that his plan went awry and he strangled her.

Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note in the house demanding $118,000 for her daughter.

Images of the blonde girl competing in child beauty pageants helped propel the case into one of the highest-profile mysteries in the United States.

DNA was found beneath JonBenet’s fingernails and inside her underwear, but Wood said two years ago that detectives were unable to match it to anyone in an FBI database.

Investigators said at one point that JonBenet’s parents were under an “umbrella of suspicion” in the slaying, and some news accounts cast suspicion on JonBenet’s older brother, Burke, who was 9 at the time. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.

Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved. The Ramseys moved back to Atlanta after their daughter’s slaying.

“It’s been a very long 10 years, and I’m just sorry Patsy isn’t here for me to hug her neck,” Wood said.

The Ramseys learned that police were investigating Karr at least a month before Patsy Ramsey’s death, the family said.

In a statement, John Ramsey said that if his wife had lived to see Karr’s arrest, she “would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today’s development almost 10 years after our daughter’s murder.”

Unsuccessful as a teacher
Bob Raines, principal at Wilson Elementary School outside Petaluma, said he twice hired Karr as a substitute in second- and fourth-grade classes in 2001. After observing him, Raines said, he concluded Karr hadn’t been trained, had poor skills keeping classes focused and was ineffective.

A couple months later, Sonoma County sheriff’s officials sent a letter to school officials saying Karr had been arrested, said Carl Wong, the county school superintendent.

County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse confirmed the child pornography charges and arrest warrant against a John Mark Karr, though she cautioned that she didn’t know if he was the same person held Bangkok. State records show Karr lost his teaching credential in 2002.

In Bangkok, police said Karr had been living in a dormitory-style guesthouse called The Blooms in a neighborhood of massage parlors and travel agents that cater to expatriate residents and sex tourists.

Suwat said U.S. authorities informed Thai police on Aug. 11 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Karr on charges of premeditated murder. The warrant was sent to Thai police on Wednesday.

“Through investigation we were able to determine where his residence was and the Thais arrested him,” Hurst said. “He did not resist. He did express surprise.”

The U.S. Homeland Security official said Karr had left the United States several years ago and had not returned.

Suwat said Karr arrived in Bangkok on June 6 from Malaysia to look for a teaching job. It was not clear whether he had gotten a job, the police officer said.

Karr’s visa has been revoked for being an “undesirable person” after the accusations against him, and U.S. authorities were expected to take him to the United States in the next few days, Suwat said.

Karr lost any legal protection in Thailand after the revocation, leaving Thai authorities free to hand him over to the U.S.