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Judge refuses to dismiss child porn charges against Karr

Saturday, September 30, 2006

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- A judge on Friday refused to dismiss child pornography charges against John Mark Karr, the former suspect in the killing of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, after prosecutors admitted losing key evidence.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Cerena Wong criticized prosecutors and sheriff's deputies for "mistakes and missteps," such as losing the computer on which police said the five suspected images were stored and failing to tell her about the loss immediately.

Karr faces five misdemeanor charges. Defense lawyers asked for them to be dismissed, arguing that prosecutors were not acting in good faith. They also said they could not adequately defend their client without hard evidence.

Karr, 41, who was not required to be in court, was absent from the hearing.

The former teacher had fled before his trial could be held. He was arrested in Thailand last month after suggesting that he killed JonBenet in her family's Boulder, Colo., home in 1996. He was returned to the U.S., but the Ramsey case quickly collapsed after DNA failed to connect him to the crime.

Three hard drives, a laptop computer, diskettes and a disk drive were seized from Karr's home when he was arrested in 2001. Karr rejected a plea deal in the child porn case and remains jailed in lieu of $200,000 bail.

Investigators said they had lost computer data containing child porn evidence against Karr and testified Friday that they notified prosecutor Joan Risse on Aug. 30 that it was missing. Risse had told the judge Aug. 29 that deputies were still analyzing the hard drive, prompting the judge to seal search and arrest warrants from 2001.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Giordano testified Friday that a copy of data on Karr's missing hard drive was found Thursday in the sheriff's computer forensic lab.

Wong said Friday after Risse testified about the missing evidence that the prosecutor had not misled her.

The problems for which Wong criticized prosecutors and investigators should be resolved by a jury, Wong said. The errors were not enough to merit dismissal of the charges, she said.

"There may have been some serious mistakes and missteps, but I don't believe when you add it all up, it amounts to bad faith," Wong said.

Risse said she was turning over information to defense attorney Robert Amparan as she received it and never intentionally withheld evidence.

The copy of the missing information was never booked as evidence but was used as an "investigative tool" in at least two other cases, Giordano said Friday.

Amparan asked Giordano and another investigator about where the drive was stored, what it was used for and how many times it had been copied. Neither Giordano nor Detective John Eubanks could answer.

"We don't have any record of where that drive went," Giordano testified.

Giordano said he learned the hard drive was missing Aug. 18 but didn't tell Risse until Aug. 30 because he was confident it would be found.

Amparan called the late discovery a "last-minute rush to come in with bad, corrupted evidence."

"The evidence we need to establish the defense in this case is gone," he said. "The lack of evidence renders us useless and meaningless."


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