A Break in the JonBenet Ramsey Case: Too Easy?

Aug. 17, 2006 — -- In some ways, the long-awaited possible big break in the 10-year-old case of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey seemed a little too easy.

The arrest of 41-year-old former teacher John Mark Karr in Thailand on Thursday appeared to erase the cloud of suspicion that had hovered over John and Patsy Ramsey since their daughter was found strangled and beaten in the basement of their Boulder, Colo., home in 1996.

As cameras focused on him and lenses clicked, he confessed to the slaying.

"I was with JonBenet when she died," Karr said to reporters. "Her death was an accident."

When asked whether he was innocent of her slaying, Karr said, "No."

Karr didn't stop there. He told The Associated Press that he loved the 6-year-old and was sorry about what had happened to her.

"I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet," he said. "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."

A Thailand police officer also told the AP that Karr had admitted to drugging and having sex with the beauty queen before accidentally killing her.

Karr's ex-wife, however, immediately came to his defense.

Lara Karr said to ABC News affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco that she was with her former husband in Alabama, where they lived at the time of JonBenet's killing, and that she did not believe he was involved in the slaying.

Karr, she said, was fascinated with the Ramsey investigation long before his arrest and spent a lot of time studying her case, as well as the case of Polly Klaas, the 12-year-old girl who was abducted from her Petaluma, Calif., home and slain in 1993.

Could Karr have falsely confessed to JonBenet's killing?

It's possible, some experts say. Karr could have had such an obsession with JonBenet that he could have falsely confessed.

"Think about the 'BTK' Killer [Dennis Rader, who was arrested last year and is serving life in prison for serial killings in Wichita, Kan., between 1974 and 1991]. He wasn't caught killing anyone. He was caught trying to get attention, baiting law enforcement," said Jack Levin, professor and director of the Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence at Northeastern University in Boston.

"This guy, John Karr, could have been trying to get attention, get publicity, and he got way more than he bargained for. However, I have to believe investigators have more on him than a confession."

Contradictions Between Karr's Statements and the Facts

Months before Karr's arrest -- before Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in late June -- investigators told John and Patsy Ramsey that they were focusing on the former schoolteacher.

It remains unclear what prior connection Karr had with the Ramseys. Karr told the AP that he had tried to communicate with Patsy Ramsey several times before her death. However, John Ramsey said he does not know Karr.

Authorities have not revealed the evidence they have gathered. Still, there seem to be contradictions between what Karr allegedly told Thai police and the circumstances surrounding JonBenet's death.

Though he allegedly told investigators he drugged and sexually assaulted the girl before accidentally killing her, JonBenet's autopsy report found no evidence of drugs. Her death, the report said, was caused by strangulation after a beating that included a fractured skull. The autopsy report describes vaginal injuries, but makes no conclusions about whether she was raped. Investigators in the case llater concluded there was no semen on JonBenet's body.

In addition, according to Thai police, Karr said he picked JonBenet up at school and took her to her home. But she was killed during Christmas break, when schools are in recess.

Linked to JonBenet by More Than Words?

The Ramsey case has generated monumental media attention in the last decade and is one of the most famous criminal investigations ever. Some observers say police should have gathered enough evidence to safeguard against possible allegations -- and anticipated criminal defense arguments -- of false confessions.

"You have to remember that they had been following Karr for months," Levin said. "They told Patsy Ramsey months ago that they were looking at him. I would imagine that they have gathered other pieces of evidence to protect against false confessions."

Still, there are many unanswered questions surrounding JonBenet's slaying.

One involves the ransom note found before JonBenet's body was discovered.

Patsy Ramsey first found a handwritten ransom note on the back staircase that demanded $118,000 -- the exact amount John Ramsey had received as a corporate bonus -- if the family ever wanted to see JonBenet again.

Levin has always wondered why JonBenet's killer left a ransom note.

If Karr killed JonBenet, he must have been obsessed with the little girl, Levin said, and would have had to have driven from Alabama to Colorado to kill her.

Levin suspects that Karr may have initially intended to abduct JonBenet, but that his plans went awry.

"Some things about this case have always bothered me, and one of them was why would someone rape and sexually torture someone and then leave," Levin said.

"It just doesn't make sense. That's why I believe that Karr -- or whoever killed JonBenet -- must have initially intended to kidnap her."

If Karr's confession is true, it is puzzling why he would talk so freely to investigators and reporters.

At the center of worldwide media spotlight, he may have been displaying some bravado, or he may have been driven by guilt, Levin said.

"There have been some killers who want to be the MVP -- most valuable player -- of killers and brag about the crimes they have committed and the list of victims they have," Levin said. "And there are some who have a conscience and are guilt-ridden, even 10 years later."

'Let The Justice System Take Its Course'

Karr is expected to be taken within the week to Colorado, where he will face charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and child sexual assault.

Prosecutors -- and John Ramsey -- have warned the media and the public not to jump to conclusions in the case.

"There are circumstances that exist in any case that mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete," said Mary Lacy, the Boulder County district attorney leading the investigation.

"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. … 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 [Thursday]," Lacy said. "He said, 'Do not jump to conclusions. Do not rush to judgment. Do not speculate. Let the justice system take its course.'"

Lacy would not comment on whether she believed Karr was lying in his confession.

"This case will rely on more than a confession," Levin said. "It will rely on whether investigators can place him at the murder scene, tie him to JonBenet."