Ramsey suspect headed for Colo. court hearing

Monday, August 28, 2006

BOULDER, Colo. -- The best-case scenario for prosecutors would be slam-dunk DNA evidence linking John Mark Karr to the battered and strangled body of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

Without it, experts say, it's still possible -- but much more difficult -- to build a strong murder case against the 41-year-old teacher who has said he was there when the girl died 10 years ago but stopped short of an outright confession.

Karr's first appearance in Boulder County Court is scheduled for today, an advisement hearing expected to last only a few minutes. He has not been formally charged in JonBenet's death.

He will be represented by two public defenders, deputy public defender Seth Temin and Steve Jacobson, KCNC-TV and the Boulder Daily Camera reported. Jacobson is a retired public defender and DNA specialist who still has a contractual relationship with the public defender's office, said Carolyn French, spokeswoman for Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy.

Temin and Jacobson were at the jail for about three hours Sunday and declined to answer questions as they left.

JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, were initial targets of a grand jury investigation that ended with no indictments. Patsy Ramsey died in June after learning authorities had turned their attention to Karr, who was living in Thailand when he was detained earlier this month.

In a court filing, prosecutors said they have evidence that has not been disclosed despite a decade of public scrutiny of the case.

Investigators have said DNA was found in blood spots on JonBenet's underwear, but a Ramsey family attorney said two years ago it didn't match any of the 1.5 million samples in an FBI database at the time. Other physical evidence includes a ransom note, a boot print found outside the Ramsey house and some indications an intruder could have entered through a basement window.

But mistakes were made early in the investigation. John Ramsey was allowed to roam the house before finding his daughter's body. Friends of the family came to the home, called by the Ramseys after they found the ransom note.

All of this could come back to haunt prosecutors, experts said.

"You need to overcome a lot of things; in order to convict Karr or anyone else, you need to overcome the evidence that seemingly could be interpreted as pointing at the Ramseys and the severely compromised crime scene," said Scott Robinson, a Denver attorney familiar with the case.

"If Karr's DNA is linked to the scene, it's all over but the verdict.

"But if in fact there is no DNA match, a defense attorney could argue that the confession means nothing."

Prosecutors can overcome police mistakes with solid work, said Bob Grant, a former district attorney who served as an adviser on the case in the 1990s.

"I've never seen a case in trial where the defense didn't find something to attack the investigation about in terms of technical investigative techniques, and I've never seen an investigation that was perfect," Grant said. "If there's DNA able to be matched to him, then the mistakes are of little or no consequence."

After Karr was detained in Bangkok, Lacy told a news conference that sometimes it becomes necessary to make an arrest before an investigation is complete and that much work remained in the Karr investigation. Since then, prosecutors have asked a judge to keep the arrest warrant affidavit sealed for at least two weeks while they work on a case still in its "very early stages."

"The press conference was not to announce 'We got our man,' it was a press conference to manage expectations of the public," said Norm Early, a former Denver district attorney.

He and other experts said Lacy deserves the benefit of the doubt and time to develop her case.

"I presume competence on the part of prosecutors, but that presumption has been put to the test by the Boulder DA's office in this case in the past," Silverman said. "I just can't believe they would have done something without something that made them sit up straight in their chairs and say 'Oh my God, send a guy to Thailand."'

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