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Suspect in JonBenet slaying case returning to U.S., media frenzy

Sunday, August 20, 2006

BOULDER, Colo. -- An arrest that initially brought relief to the family of JonBenet Ramsey has since unleashed an onslaught of unwelcome attention that has incensed the slain girl's father, a longtime family lawyer said Saturday.

Even as authorities were preparing to extradite John Mark Karr, a teacher who admitted involvement in the 6-year-old's death a decade ago, her father was hounded by camera crews Friday as he took his son to college at Purdue University, attorney Lin Wood said.

"He cannot go back to his home in Michigan because it is surrounded by the media," Wood said. "Last night, I've never heard him so angry. He is upset. He is worried about his son's physical safety ... I'm not sure John Ramsey will ever speak to a member of the media after what happened to him yesterday."

After Karr's arrest Wednesday in Thailand, he said he was with JonBenet when she was killed the day after Christmas 1996 in the basement of the family's Boulder home. He called the child's death "an accident."

Karr will face charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault.

Authorities in Thailand said Karr, 41, would leave this evening on a flight to the United States. "The tickets for John Mark Karr's departure are ready," said Thailand's immigration police chief, Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul.

He did not specify the route Karr would take. In the United States, neither federal nor local officials would confirm the timing.

At the Boulder courthouse grounds, television crews pitched camp in anticipation of his arrival.

More than 30 journalists representing organizations as far away as Japan attended a meeting Friday to divvy up media seating for Karr's first court appearance -- even though the hearing hadn't even been scheduled.

That initial court appearance is generally for the judge to advise a suspect of his rights, said state court system spokeswoman Karen Salaz. "It's going to be three minutes, max," Salaz said.

Karr is the first suspect arrested in the death of the child beauty queen -- who was strangled and had a fractured skull -- after years of investigations and grand jury hearings.

Police at one time declared that the girl's parents and older brother were under an "umbrella of suspicion," and the Ramseys bitterly countered what they termed unfair speculation, even publishing a book detailing why they said an intruder must have killed their daughter. Patsy Ramsey died in June.

Legal experts have said DNA evidence will likely be key: DNA was found beneath JonBenet's fingernails and inside her underwear. Autopsy results were inconclusive about whether she'd been sexually assaulted.

But others who worked on the case warned that DNA evidence alone will not be enough to convict Karr.

"It can only exclude or include him as the possible killer. It can never be 100 percent," said forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, noting that investigators only have a partial profile to work with.

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.

Meanwhile, California prosecutors said they would wait to pursue child pornography possession charges against Karr. In 2001 he was jailed about six months on the charges in Sonoma County, where he worked briefly as a substitute teacher, but he was released and disappeared before his trial was to begin.

With good behavior and credit for time already served, Karr probably wouldn't spend much more time in jail if convicted, but it would require him to register as a sex offender, Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said Friday.


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